|Photo: A Greener Country|
State officials estimate that about half of the dispensaries currently operating will be able to comply with the new rules.
There are about 1,100 medical marijuana shops in Colorado, the most in any state other than California, which does not have statewide dispensary regulations.
|Karen O'Keefe, MPP: "Patients will now be able to obtain marijuana from a sensible and orderly system of law-abiding and regulated providers"|
"By approving a statewide system of dispensaries through which patients can safely acquire marijuana, Colorado is taking a significant amount of revenue away from the dangerous, illicit, and unsanctioned market created by prohibition," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
"Instead, patients will now be able to obtain marijuana from a sensible and orderly system of law-abiding and regulated providers," O'Keefe said. "The scope of this newly regulated industry makes it the largest ever in the United States."
"The companion measures I signed today strike a delicate balance between protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters," Gov. Ritter said.
The governor signed the bills, House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109, without the usual public ceremony such high-profile legislation usually commands, reports John Ingold of The Denver Post.
Instead, the bills were quietly signed in private before Ritter headed out on a bill-signing tour in southwestern Colorado.
Dispensary owners will be subject to licensing fees and background checks under the regulations. Shops will be required to grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell and, like liquor stores, will not be allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of schools.
Some patient advocates say the rules go too far, will drive dispensaries out of business and will push patients back into buying cannabis illegally on the street.
A team of lawyers has already begun gathering potential plaintiffs for lawsuits challenging the laws' constitutionality.
The law distinguishes between dispensaries and "primary caregivers" -- small-scale marijuana providers whose work is protected in the state's constitution. In order to qualify for protection now, caregivers can serve no more than five patients and grow no more than six plants per patient, in almost all cases cases. They must also register with the state.
New Mexico already has a state-regulated medical marijuana dispensary program. Similar programs will soon be operational in Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., but the number of licensed dispensaries allowed in each of those states is fewer than 10.
Colorado's medical marijuana law will allow hundreds of dispensaries, and potentially more if future demand increases.
A plurality of Colorado voters supports further expanding the state's marijuana laws, according to a Rasmussen telephone poll released May 15.
Among likely voters, 49 percent said they support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with an additional 13 percent still undecided.