By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Local municipalities would have a more difficult time banning retail medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits under an amended medical marijuana reform bill passed by a House committee Monday.
The amended bill’s passage was a victory for medical marijuana activists who argued that allowing cities to ban dispensaries, as described in the original bill, would force sick patients to travel great distances for their medicine. But the amendment’s passage also sparked the ire of several conservative lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Srprings, who originally planned on voting in the favor of the bill, changed his vote to no after the amendment passed.
Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana lobbying group, said that as he understands it, a city could still ban dispensaries through a citizen-initiated ballot item. A city could also heavily restrict where dispensaries are located through zoning.
PTSD amendment fails
The medical marijuana community was less enthusiastic about the narrow defeat of an amendment directing the Department of Health to conduct a hearing on whether Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that could be treated with medical marijuana. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment publicly opposed the measure, saying in a press release “There is no evidence of efficacy of marijuana for treatment of PTSD in the medical literature.” But supporters of the amendment pointed to a New Mexico medical committee advisory saying medical marijuana can be used to effectively treat PTSD.
“It’s unfortunate that legislators are hanging veterans out to dry and denying them access to a medicine that has been proved to be effective,” said Mason Tvert of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, a pro-medical marijuana group.
Other amendments voted on Monday include:
— An amendment banning the smoking of medical marijuana by patients was killed;
— An amendment allowing the consumption of food with medical marijuana within an area of a dispensary where marijuana isn’t being sold passed;
— An amendment allowing a caregiver to serve up to 16 patients in municipalities that have banned dispensaries passed;
— An amendment dedicating the first $2 million in tax revenue every year generated by medical marijuana towards substance abuse issues passed;
Levy said over the weekend that the multiple amendments should make the reform bill — which would create a medical marijuana licensing authority within the department of revenue, and allow for the creation of medical marijuana centers that, if they comply with a local jurisdiction’s zoning requirements, could sell medical marijuana to multiple patients — more palatable to the medical marijuana community.
Vicente agreed Monday that “the bill is heading in the right direction.” But he remained opposed to the bill’s requirement of having medical marijuana centers grow most of their own medical marijuana themselves.
“We need to have a number of growers providing for dispensaries, not just one,” he said. “We think that would help protect the supply of medicine for patients to ensure there is still diversities.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, district attorneys and doctors earlier this month voiced their opposition to the bill during a committee hearing. They argued that the measure would legitimize the retail dispensary model, which they see a backdoor way to legalize marijuana.
Levy said on Friday that the new amendments don’t address the law enforcement community’s concerns.
“They’re opposed to the very concept of the bill, so none of these amendments will remove their objections,” she said.
HB 1284 is the second medical marijuana reform bill to make its way through the Legislature this session. The first bill from Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, requires patients under the age of 21 to get a second doctor’s opinion before being able to obtain a medical marijuana card and forbids doctors from receiving money from medical marijuana dispensaries.
Denver City Council in January unanimously approved a bill that limits where dispensaries can be located, who can run them, and what safety measures dispensary owners must have in place. All of the bills seek to clarify Amendment 20, the measure approved by voters in 2000 that allows for seriously ill Coloradans to use medical marijuana.