Colorado’s medical marijuana industry is complex, confusing and in need of regulation, but a pair of bills that passed the state legislature last week and which Gov. Bill Ritter has indicated he intends to sign are only going to make matters worse.
House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109 seek to regulate the distribution of marijuana.
SB 109 places restrictions on doctor-patient and doctor-dispensary relationships, allowing patients to only see doctors that will offer follow-up care and prohibiting patients from seeing doctors that receive payment from dispensaries.
As complicated as that sounds, it might be HB 1284 that proves to be more problematic.
Among other things, it limits caregivers to a maximum of five patients, requires dispensaries to obtain state licenses and allows local governments to ban marijuana businesses.
Also, a one-year moratorium on new dispensary operations will begin in July, by which point all existing shops have to be in compliance with local laws and zoning codes.
By August, all centers will have to pay a nonrefundable application fee, and by September, all businesses will have to submit proof that they’re producing at least 70 percent of their medicine in-house.
Opponents of the legislation have already vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the mandates once the bills are signed.
They plan to take aim at the provisions that limit patient numbers, charge licensing fees and allow local governments to ban dispensaries.
Legislators shouldn’t have expected any less.
When voters approved Amendment 20 back in 2000, they intended to increase access to medical marijuana, not limit it.
These bills seek not only to limit access but also to dismantle dispensaries.
If caregivers can only see five patients, some current patients will have to seek out new caregivers and could be left without one.
And if city councils or county commissions are allowed to ban dispensaries, every city and county in the state could, in theory, ban dispensaries — ignoring completely voters’ wishes.
Legislators were under pressure from municipalities this session to find solutions for the medical marijuana industry, but instead they’ve created more problems — and what promises to be lengthy legal saga.
Opponents say they plan to seek a court injunction to block the laws from going into effect until any litigation is settled.
The courts should quickly provide whatever relief they can.