LONGMONT — More than 150 marijuana dispensary owners, patients and activists crowded into the hall of the Longmont VFW on Wednesday night to discuss how to police their own industry before local and state governments come up with new regulations.
The goal of the group, organized by Longmont dispensary owner Larry Hill, is to come up with a voluntary organization that will set standards for dispensaries and certify members who comply with those standards. The group also would lobby at the state and local level for changes to the medical marijuana law and provide a point of contact for law enforcement, doctor and patient concerns.
One of its first goals needs to be defining what a dispensary is and how one should operate, Hill said.
The state constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana, passed in 2000, provides for patients and caregivers to grow and possess small amounts of pot. Dispensaries have sprung up to serve the role of caregiver and grow marijuana for patients who don’t want to or can’t grow their own.
But dispensaries operate within a gray area of the law, and some municipalities have moved to ban them within their borders.
Where dispensaries should locate, what kind of signage they should have, whether patients should use the drug on site and whether they should provide social opportunities for patients all are issues up for discussion.
The group might also provide certification for dispensaries that meet certain health and safety requirements, or it might provide a place to register legal growing operations in the hope that fewer cases would go to court.
Many in the room applauded the effort.
“Any regulations the cannabis industry comes up with will be better for the patient than anything government comes up with because we care more about the patient,” said Laura Kriho, an activist with the Cannabis Therapy Institute, which is developing model regulations to present to cities and towns.
Cathy Burds, a Thornton woman who had been vehemently opposed to any drug use before her doctor recommended marijuana to help with her cancer symptoms, said dispensaries need higher standards.
“I’m here because I went into a dispensary and watched someone lick a joint and put it into a bag,” she said as a few people in the room gasped. “I’m standing there with zero immunities. When you have cancer, this stuff is a very big deal.”
But some dispensary owners worried that self-regulation represents a capitulation to unfounded worries.
“Let’s not forget that for 70 years we all bought black-market weed with no regulation, and it never killed anybody,” said Kathleen Chippi, of Cannabis Healing Arts in Nederland.
The gathering ended with no concrete plans for the organization but with a commitment to continue meeting regularly. Their next meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the VFW, 206 S. Main St., Longmont.
By Erica Meltzer