By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
As enthusiasts Tuesday gathered at Denver Civic Center to smoke marijuana in celebration of 4/20 — an unofficial holiday celebrating the drug — lawmakers across the street passed a bill that would further regulate Colorado’s booming medical marijuana industry.
Lawmakers approved a bill on a voice vote that would create a state medical marijuana licensing board run by the Department of Revenue. Under the bill, dispensaries — referred to as “centers” in the bill — would have to get a state, local, and cultivation license to sell medical marijuana to patients. The House must give final approval to the bill before it moves to the Senate.
The bill includes an amendment requiring the Department of Health to consider additional debilitating conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana. The passed amendment was a victory for veterans’ rights advocates who believe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) should be considered a debilitating condition.
The amendment requires the Department of Health to hold a hearing within 180 days of receiving a petition for a public hearing on a potential new ailment that could be treated with medical marijuana. Although the constitution already requires the state department to hold such a hearing, no hearings have been held to date, according to Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo.
“I don’t know if PTSD will be treated with medical marijuana…but we don’t even have a process to consider it,” said Pace.
But Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, said he has faith that the Department of Heath will annually evaluate possible new conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana. He believes the amendment is unnecessary.
No additional tax
Lawmakers voted down amendments Tuesday that would have taxed the transaction when doctors write medical marijuana referrals for patients and placed an excise tax on medical marijuana. The excise tax would have levied an additional $8 tax for every ounce of marijuana sold; dispensaries currently only charge the state sales tax for marijuana.
Rep. Joel Judd, D-Denver, the sponsor of the amendments, said the additional taxes would have given the state more money to work with. But opposing lawmakers argued that the additional taxes would have made it harder for sick patients to get their medicine.
“I don’t want to block people’s access to medicine by making it more cost prohibitive,” said Rep. Jerry Frangas, D-Denver.
The medical marijuana reform bill passed Tuesday was significantly watered down from the original proposal. Some of the bill’s most controversial parts — allowing local municipalities to ban dispensaries from operating within city limits and requiring dispensaries to operate as non-profits — were cut out from the bill earlier this legislative session.
However, some medical marijuana activists groups like the Cannabis Therapy Institute believe House Bill 1284 is a “49-page regulatory monstrosity that seeks to eliminate 95 percent of existing dispensaries.” But other medical marijuana activists like attorney Brian Vicente have said that the amended bill is “heading in the right direction.”
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.