Editor’s Note: The referenced bill wasn’t introduced at the time this story was posted. A draft copy of the bill is included at the bottom of this story.
By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A group of lawmakers introduced an expansive medical marijuana reform bill Wednesday that would eliminate the for-profit medical marijuana dispensary model, forbid any new retail dispensaries from opening up for 18 months, and give local municipalities the right to ban dispensaries from operating within city limits.
The bill would also ban on-site consumption at the medical marijuana “wellness centers,” which would be required to grow 90 percent of the marijuana they sell. The latter proposal would legally force the large major independent medical marijuana growers who don’t team up with a dispensary in the next 18 months out of business. Medical marijuana caregivers or growers who serve five or fewer patients would be exempt from the requirements.
While the bill’s chief architect, Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, was originally reported to be considering the law enforcement community’s proposal to cap the number of patients a caregiver could serve — effectively killing the dispensary model — the bill introduced Wednesday would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to continue operating if they transition into a non-profit wellness center. Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, the bill’s one Democratic cosponsor, believes that turning dispensaries into nonprofits would cause owners to reinvest profits back into their patients and businesses.
Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana lobbying group, did not object to turning dispensaries into nonprofits. However, he did say other parts of the bill — banning on-site consumption, requiring a grow operation to be linked to a certain dispensary, and the 18-month moratorium on opening new dispensaries — would make it harder for patients to get their medicine. He added that allowing cities to ban dispensaries could force seriously ill patients to have to take the bus to get their medicine in another town.
“We have some significant patient concerns, but at the same time, we are dedicated to working with the legislature to make this happen,” he said.
Not all of the medical marijuana activists at Wednesday’s press conference shared Vicente’s conciliatory tone. One man interrupted the proceedings by shouting to Romer, who was left to defend the measure alone after Massy decided to attend a committee hearing instead of the press conference, that the bill would force medical marijuana users and sellers back underground. Fellow activist Julia Anderson of Patients Choice of Colorado, a medical marijuana dispensary, said after the press conference that the bill would leave patients without their medicine while also putting dispensaries out of business.
“I feel that this is really unfair and will create a very bad situation,” she said.
But Romer called the bill “common sense rules that will basically get control of an industry that’s blossomed up very quickly on us.” He argued that the bill would allow people in the medical marijuana community to “go home and sleep at night” knowing that the state has gotten the so-called “Wild West industry” under control.
“Our job is to make tough choices and our job is to basically put forth a set of ground rules,” he said.
Vicente’s Sensible Colorado today is filing his own statewide ballot initiative to regulate medical marijuana. The initiative would amend the Colorado Constitution to require a uniform licensing system for both medical marijuana dispensaries and growers.The initiative also calls for licensing fees and security requirements.
“State-licensed medical marijuana patients need storefront dispensaries in the same way that other sick Coloradans need pharmacies,” he said in a statement. “Medical marijuana patients will not go without medicine in Colorado.” Vicente needs more than 75,000 signatures by July in order for the initiative to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. He is unveiling the initiative today at the Capitol at 11 a.m.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters