By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Colorado’s medical marijuana industry exhaled in relief Monday after President Barack Obama’s administration announced that federal attorneys shouldn’t prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries or legal users in states like Colorado where the drug has been legalized.
Meanwhile, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is claiming that he and other law enforcement agencies are in a “legal vacuum” and need for state lawmakers to come up with substantial regulations for the booming industry.
Monday’s policy memo from the Justice Department was a dramatic turnaround from the policy established by President George W. Bush. Previously, federal attorneys were encouraged to enforce the federal law against marijuana. Colorado technically legalized medical marijuana in 2000 via the voter-approved Amendment 20, but a conflict between federal and state laws has kept the industry in a legal haze.
“We’re definitely happy that the government has taken a sensible, common sense view on this issue,” said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “I think it shows they have a level of compassion towards sick patients.”
Suthers is in the process of meeting with local law enforcement agencies on possible ideas for how to regulate the industry. Medical marijuana advocates wrote Amendment 20 and the initiative doesn’t mention marijuana dispensaries or grow operations, much less a way to regulate them.
“For the U.S. Attorney General’s new policy to have any significance for Colorado, our state lawmakers must give clarification to Amendment 20 and create a regulatory scheme for the growing medical marijuana industry,” Suthers said in a statement.
Vicente said he is cautiously optimistic about possible regulations that Suthers and lawmakers might come up with going forward. He said that the Colorado government and attorney general have historically tried to undermine Amendment 20 in the past. But with the Obama administration blatantly saying that resources shouldn’t be wasted prosecuting legal users and caregivers in the marijuana industry who are following state law, he hopes for a “more open and honest discussion” going forward.
Support for reform
Andy Cookston of Cannabis Medical, one of Denver’s first medical marijuana dispensaries, and Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute, a medical marijuana advocacy group, both agree that the industry needs to be regulated.
Cookston compared the current Colorado medical marijuana field to the United States immediately following prohibition. Right now, everyone is running “hog wild” and regulation could help straighten out the industry while also getting rid of the marijuana underground market, he said.
Kriho added that regulation could help the medical marijuana patients feel safer.
“I don’t think the Attorney General wants cancer patients buying cannabis in back alleys,” she said.
Potential regulations could range from not allowing marijuana dispensaries to be near schools to taxing dispensaries similar to how liquor stores are taxed.
Cookston hopes there will be a regulation that would establish some kind of documented paperwork for the transfer of marijuana. Right now, some growers are going to his dispensary with questionable paperwork trying to sell him marijuana. An established documentation process would let dispensary owners like himself know who is legitimate and legal and who is not, he said.
Because Suthers is only meeting with law enforcement officials at this point, it is premature for him to support any specific measures or proposals on marijuana regulation, said Suthers’ office.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters