By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A comprehensive bill that would regulate Colorado’s booming medical marijuana industry is expected to head to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk today for a signature.
But a group of medical marijuana attorneys is hoping to prevent the bill from becoming law by challenging the measure’s legality in court.
House Bill 1284 would create a medical marijuana licensing authority within the Department of Revenue. The House today is expected to approve a set of amendments added by the Senate and send the bill to Ritter.
The most contentious part of the measure would allow local municipalities to ban dispensaries — referred to as centers in the bill — from operating within city limits. Additionally, the bill would require people opening a medical marijuana center to be a Colorado resident for two years and only allow caregivers to provide marijuana to five patients or less.
Medical marijuana attorneys like Rob Corry and Brian Vicente believe the bill has several provisions that would restrict patients from their constitutionally protected access to medicine and, as a result, be unconstitutional.
“It’s not too late for the Legislature and or the governor to avert this litigation, to avoid it all together by either passing legislation that is in compliance with the constitution, orÉ voting down this legislation and or vetoing it,” said Corry.
However, bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, pointed out that Amendment 20 only granted access to marijuana for seriously ill Coloradans. The measure passed by voters in 2000 doesn’t talk about or guarantee a business model for dispensing medical marijuana.
“The bill’s not perfect, but it’s constitutional,” Romer said.
Corry acknowledged that a lawsuit challenging a statute is an uphill battle. However, he pointed to successes that he and other medical marijuana attorneys have had — specifically a lawsuit that successfully challenged limiting caregivers to five patients and a lawsuit against the city of Centennial for banning dispensaries — as proof that overturning the statue is possible.
“It’s still a battle worth fighting, particularly since we are literally dealing with a life-or-death issue,” said Corry. “And we’ve had success in the past on suing state or local government in civil court.”
If HB 1284 is signed into law, Corry said the group of lawyers would challenge the statute “as soon as possible.” Romer and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, expect the House to easily pass the Senate amendments and for Ritter to sign the bill into law. Ritter’s office could not be reached for comment on multiple occasions yesterday.
HB 1284 is expected to put approximately half of Colorado’s medical marijuana dispensaries out of business. Romer argued that the bill would be getting rid of the industry’s “bad apples” and that sick patients would still have easy access to their medicine.
However, Corry had a different take, stating: “I think it’s going be devastating, it will increase costs astronomically, reduce choices, and make safe access to medicine more difficult.”
Since being introduced at the beginning of February, 179 amendments have been proposed for HB 1284. The amendments have been split between the law enforcement and medical marijuana patient communities. HB 1284 has sparked the ire of both groups, which Romer believes is a good thing.
“It’s a good law,” said Romer. “You want to end up in the middle.”