New Medical-Marijuana Regs Now Law in Colorado
Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law today two bills regulating and legitimizing the state's medical-marijuana industry.
"The companion measures I signed today strike a delicate balance between protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters," Ritter said in a statement.
The bills — which impose complicated licensing requirements on medical-marijuana dispensaries and crack down on unscrupulous doctors indiscriminately handing out marijuana recommendations — were some of the most high-profile measures passed in the legislature this year.
But Ritter signed the bills, House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109, this morning without the usual public ceremony such attention-grabbing legislation usually commands. Instead, the bills were signed privately along with a slate of 28 various other bills before Ritter headed out on a bill-signing tour in southwestern Colorado.
Supporters of the bills say they will professionalize the medical-marijuana industry and make it harder for people to abuse the system. But several prominent medical-marijuana advocates say the rules go too far, will drive marijuana dispensaries out of business and will push patients back into the underground marketplace. A team of lawyers has already begun recruiting potential plaintiffs for lawsuits challenging the laws' constitutionality.
A number of law enforcement officials, meanwhile, say the rules don't go far enough. They argue that, by permitting marijuana dispensaries, the legislature overstepped its constitutional authority.
Of the pair, Senate Bill 109, which requires that patients have a "bona fide" relationship with the doctors who recommend marijuana for them, had the less bumpy ride through the legislature.
The new law will require doctors to have completed a full assessment of the patient's medical history, to talk with the patient about the medical condition that has caused them to seek marijuana and to be available for follow-up care. The law also prevents doctors from getting paid by dispensaries to write recommendations.
Supporters hope the measures will eliminate fast food-style medical-marijuana-recommendation operations that critics say have swelled the state's registry with illegitimate patients.
"Senate Bill 109 will help prevent fraud and abuse," Ritter said in his statement today.
House Bill 1284, which creates strict new regulations for medical-marijuana businesses, generated considerably more controversy. The law requires that dispensaries be licensed at both the state and local levels, and it allows local governments — or voters — to ban dispensaries and large-scale marijuana-growing operations in their communities.
Some cities have already moved to do just that. Vail's Town Council voted last week to ban dispensaries, while Greenwood Village officials are currently drafting an ordinance to do the same. Aurora City Council members are preparing a ballot question that would ask voters whether they want dispensaries in the city, and a number of other cities have extended their dispensary moratoriums while they figure out what to do.
The new law will place other requirements on dispensaries, as well. People convicted recently of a felony — or at all of a drug-related felony — will be barred from operating a dispensary. People who have lived in Colorado for fewer than two years cannot open a new dispensary. And all dispensaries must grow at least 70 percent of the marijuana they sell, meaning people currently operating as wholesale growers either have to partner with a dispensary or shut down.
Significantly from a legal standpoint, the law also makes a distinction between dispensaries and "primary caregivers" — small-scale marijuana providers whose work is protected in the state's constitution. In order to qualify for that special protection now, caregivers can serve no more than five patients and grow no more than six plants per patient, in most cases. They must also register with the state.
Dispensaries, the new law says, are not caregivers and don't qualify for their elevated, constitutional protection.
A number of dispensary owners fear that — between the new requirements and the ability of local governments to ban dispensaries — the law may put them out of business.
But Ritter said in his statement today that the law will allow communities to put "sensible and much-needed controls" on dispensaries.
- Article from The Denver Post.