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Legislators draft new marijuana bill for Colorado

State legislators Sen. Chris Romer and Rep. Tom Massey are drafting a new medical marijuana bill to present to the Colorado General Assembly during their session beginning Jan.13.

Massey said the bill will be bi-partisan with Romer introducing the proposed bill to the Senate mid-January, and Massey presenting the bill to the House mid-February, if approved by the Senate.

Voters approved the small-scale use of medical marijuana in 2000.

After the federal government said in 2009 that they would not prosecute medical marijuana users in states where it is legal, the state saw an onslaught of medical marijuana applicants and caregivers.

Massey said between 2001 and 2008 there were about 1,600 applicants for medical marijuana. Since 2009, the state has had 21,000 applicants.

“The flood gates were opened, and then there’s a proliferation of applicants. We need to regulate that proliferation,” Massey said.

He said before 2009 most medical marijuana applicants suffered from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Currently, the average age of an applicant is between 24 and 29, he said.

The law enforcement model put forward by Attorney General John Suthers, Massey said, would limit caregivers to five patients and impose tighter controls on physicians who recommend medical marijuana for patients.

Five doctors are responsible for 49 percent of medical marijuana permits, while 15 doctors are responsible for 75 percent of permits, Massey said.

Of those 15 doctors, seven have sanctions on their licenses. “That just doesn’t smell real good,” he said.

While the new bill is “a work in flux,” Massey said the framework includes regulating physicians and requiring them to be in good standing.

Physicians should have a “legitimate doctor-patient relationship,” Massey explained, which means patients should undergo a physical with the doctor.

An article in the Denver Post dated Dec. 11 and written by Romer and Massey outlined some details of the proposed bill:

• Dispensaries would be subject to regular auditing and reporting requirements.

• There must be a limit on the amount of marijuana produced and sold at any licensed premise.

• Eliminating non-medical dispensaries as well as the loopholes through which patients can purchase from multiple dispensaries.

A non-medical dispensary, Massey said, has no link to a medical professional. Dispensaries in Salida are non-medical, he said.

Massey said medical marijuana is intended for a “legitimate patient with a real need, and dispensaries should not be a “profit center.”

By limiting caregivers to five patients, Massey said potentially half of the dispensaries in Colorado could be driven out of business.

“There’s not as much money in it. It’s less cost effective if dispensaries only serve five patients,” Massey explained.

Massey said he attended a Colorado Municipal League meeting earlier this month, and a town manager for Fort Collins said there are 1,700 dispensaries in the area.

Salida officials approved dispensaries and are allowing them to do business only in areas zoned Commercial 1.

Poncha Springs imposed a moratorium until July 27 on the acceptance, processing and approval of medical marijuana dispensary permits.

Both municipalities said they are waiting until the state general assembly meets to make further decisions.

Massey said, “There will be a new legislative model in place this year, but it will be tested through litigation no matter what model we use.”

By Audrey Gilpin