A push to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado seems to be nearing the finish line. The bill has been passed with amendments in both the House and Senate. It has been presented to Governor Ritter who has indicated that he will sign it.
The bill requires dispensaries to obtain both state and local licenses, with fees ranging between $10,000 and $50,000; gives local governments the ability to ban dispensaries in their communities; and requires dispensary owners and workers to pass a background check. Convicted felons and residents who have not maintained residency for the last two years will be prohibited from owning or operating a dispensary. In addition, dispensaries will have to grow 70 percent or more of the marijuana that they distribute and close before 7 p.m.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Romer, believes that the proposed measures will close nearly 80 percent of the 1,100 dispensaries operating in the state. However, some opponents to the bill, such as Colorado State Attorney General John Suthers, argue that the bill will only legitimize the "storefront" dispensaries able to meet the new requirements - a type of distribution system he believes was not clearly outlined in the amendment that passed in 2000 making medical marijuana legal in the state of Colorado.
Under the new legislation, the fees obtained from licensing will be used to increase law enforcement as "auditors with guns" make sure dispensaries are in compliance by the July 1, 2010, deadline. "My intention is to get the thugs and the knuckleheads out of the business," said Romer.
In February 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Drug Enforcement Agency would end raids on state-approved marijuana dispensaries. Since then, the number of dispensaries and patients seeking medical marijuana in Colorado has ballooned - nearly all of the 105 dispensaries in Boulder opened in the last six months. Mark Salley of the Colorado Health Department said the number of patient applications for medical marijuana, jumped from 270 per workday in August 2009 to about 1,000 in February 2010. It is now estimated that more than 100,000 Coloradans can buy medical marijuana legally.
Proponents of the legislation say the new regulations will limit the rampant growth of dispensaries and help keep tabs on the drugs being sold. Denver Councilman Charlie Brown described Denver and Colorado currently as "the Wild West of medical marijuana, with unregulated and untaxed dispensaries opening almost daily and the number of registered patients soaring."
With the increased regulations and dispensary closings, many patients will be forced to acquire their medication through a primary caregiver who can distribute medication to up to five patients. Primary caregivers are adult persons responsible for managing the well-being of a patient who has a debilitating medical condition. They are legally allowed to grow or procure marijuana medication as long as they have no more than two ounces of usable marijuana at any one time and no more than six plants, with three or fewer being fully mature flowering plants.
If you run a dispensary or are a primary caretaker or you are prescribed marijuana and want to know how to comply with the new laws, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to talk about the changes in the medical marijuana laws.