Colorado: Stakeholders Pack Major Medical Marijuana Policy Hearing
Update: The Colorado Board of Health voted not to place patient limits on cannabis buyers clubs to five patients, and other proposed limitations. Congratulations to the 500 or more concerned citizens in Colorado who came from all parts of state for a historically high turnout for a state board meeting.
Auraria crowd stands up for access to medical marijuana
By Claire Trageser
The Denver Post
About 350 people signed up to testify at the Colorado Board of Health’s meeting today about proposed changes to the state’s medical-marijuana laws.
The most controversial of those planned changes would effectively shut down medical-marijuana dispensaries and could potentially cut off access to the drug for some of the 7,630 Coloradans registered as patients who can legally use marijuana.
Public testimony started around 2 p.m. at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus, which was standing room only as more than 500
spectators filled all of the seats in a large auditorium and balcony.
Despite slips of paper distributed by Sensible Colorado, “a pro-marijuana, nonprofit advocacy group” reminding those in attendance to “be respectful and professional” and not to “speak out of turn or taunt speakers,” the audience often broke out in cheers, hisses, or boos.
The board is contemplating a number of changes to Colorado’s Amendment 20, passed by voters in 2000. The amendment allows those with debilitating medical conditions to either grow their own marijuana or appoint a “caregiver” to do the growing for them. The proposed changes to that amendment would limit caregivers, which sometimes take the form of dispensaries serving hundreds of patients, to supplying five patients at a time.
Eleven people were scheduled to testify in support of the proposal, but two were not present when their names were called, and one, the owner of Cannabis Therapeutics in Colorado Springs, seemed to have accidentally signed up on the wrong side.
“This must be a mistake,” said Glenn Schlabs, the president of the board of health.
Holly Dodge, the deputy district attorney for El Paso County, spoke in support of the proposal on behalf of 20 other DAs on the Colorado
District Attorneys’ Council. She said the proposed changes would clarify, not change, the intention of the original amendment.
“There is no way of appropriately protecting a patient when they have a caregiver with 300 other patients,” she said. “That’s not caregiving, that’s marijuana growing.”
Her comments were met with boos from the crowd.
Other supporters who spoke, including police officers and spokespeople for anti-drug advocacy groups, emphasized the proposal’s ability to help
law-enforcement officers control marijuana growing operations. Because there is no limit on a caregiver’s size, several speakers said police
officers have had difficulty determining whether a growing operation is legal.
“While Amendment 20 is clear in its intent, its definition is vague enough that district attorneys cannot meaningfully advise people on the
street who are enforcing marijuana laws,” said Helen Morgan, Denver’s chief deputy district attorney.
In addition, the board heard testimony from Ned Calonge, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Ron Hyman, registrar of vital statistics at the state health department; and representatives from Sensible Colorado and the Colorado branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
In his presentation to the board, Hyman said the state’s marijuana registry does not have enough resources to manage what he called the
“explosive growth” of registered marijuana patients.
The registry has grown by about 1,000 patients a month this year, including 2,000 new patients in June, Hyman said. He predicted that the
state would have 15,000 registered patients by the end of the year.
“We’re doing the same amount of work in a day that we used to do in over a month,” he said.
Calonge then explained why the proposal sets the patient cap for caregivers at five.
“We define a primary caregiver as significantly participating in a patient’s everyday care,” he said. “If those caregivers are making home
visits to each patient, considering travel time, they could visit five patients a day.”
Calonge cited numerous examples where a caregiver is defined as seeing five patients a day, including Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana law and
the number of patients nurses from a home-health care company sees.
“We believe we have ample precedent and supportive evidence for this number,” he said.
The board then heard testimony from those opposed to the proposal, including a doctor, a police officer, a caregiver and a medical-marijuana patient.
“More regulation drives people to the black market, and that means patient care suffers,” said Dr. Paul Bregman.
“If this law passes, patients will lose their access to safe medicine and some will die,” said the owner of a Colorado dispensary. “Please be compassionate.”
The dispensary owner said that although his dispensary serves more than five patients, he believes he provides significant care to each one.
When asked by the board where he would set his own patient limit, he said that even 5,000 patients would not be too many.
“I’d like to be under the same standards as Walgreens or a Wal-Mart pharmacy,” he said.
Lauren Davis, a former senior district attorney in Denver said the proposal would not address the concerns raised by the other law-enforcement officials who had testified.
“Limiting caregivers will increase the number of small-grower operations,” she said.
Although the public-comment period of the meeting was set to begin at 12:50 p.m., by noon, the meeting was already an hour behind schedule.
After public comments, the board will deliberate and then vote on whether to approve the proposal.
Claire Trageser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-954-1638
Patients say pot restrictions will force them to buy from black market
The Associated Press
DENVER Colorado’s chief medical officer, police officers and prosecutors are urging health officials to limit the state’s medical marijuana providers to five patients each. They say the current system ‘which has no limits’ is causing confusion over who can legally grow marijuana and is susceptible to fraud.
But medical marijuana users and their supporters said the rule change, one of five being considered, would make it harder for people who need
the drug to get it legally.
The state health board is holding an all-day hearing on the changes on the Auraria Campus. Opponents far outnumber supporters with 350 people signing up to speak against the changes.
Voters allowed the use of medical marijuana in Colorado by passing Amendment 20 in 2000. The board is considering rules changing how the
program is run. Opponents say the five person limit is a significant change and that the board doesn’t have the authority to do that. July 20, 2009