|Photo: Denver Westword|
|The name of Denver dispensary Patients Choice serves as an ironic reminder that patients had little input on the bill approved on a voice vote Wednesday by the Colorado Senate.|
The Colorado Senate Wednesday passed HB 1284, a medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill almost universally opposed in the patient community.
According to the bill’s main sponsor, Senator Chris Romer (D-Denver), the legislation will eliminate from 50 percent to 80 percent of the 1,100 dispensaries now in Colorado.
Dispensaries and producers of cannabis edibles will have to apply for state licenses if the bill becomes law, as appears likely. After July 2011, these providers must follow new state regulations in order to continue operating.
Local governments will be allowed to ban dispensaries. This damaging provision will make safe access to medicine difficult for innumerable patients across the state, according to Sensible Colorado. However, Sensible said its legal team is already planning local campaigns and lawsuits to overturn bans.
That provision caused heated debate Wednesday, with opponents calling it both unwise and unconstitutional. Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) said the provision could be overturned in court, throwing all the regulations into jeopardy.
“We have no statutory authority to carve out new exceptions to what is a constitutionally granted right,” Carroll said, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post.
Caregivers will be limited to helping five or fewer patients. Anyone helping six or more patients will be required to register as a “dispensary” with the state — in a process yet to be determined. Again, Sensible Colorado said it plans to take swift action to fight this restriction.
The bill passed the full Senate on a voice vote with what reportedly sounded like “only a handful” of dissenting votes.
In a surprise vote, the Senate narrowly adopted Amendment 173 to the bill, proposed by Sen. Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction), which would eliminate the sales tax on medical marijuana.
Sen. Perry pointed out that 95 percent of prescription medicines in the state are not subject to sales tax. According to Perry, it would be “inappropriate, crass and wrong” to take money to fund other state programs from the sick and disabled people who use medical marijuana.
“This bill should not be a revenue bill,” Perry said.
Sen. Romer said he did not support the amendment to strike the sales tax because “we’re not at the point that we are treating this as a medicine.” According to Romer, medical marijuana should be taxed “until we get evidence-based medicine” and “until it’s like other supplements.”
Sen. Perry countered that Sen. Romer “can’t say it’s medicinal on one hand and then on the other say it’s not medicinal.”
The no-tax amendment was adopted by just one vote, 18-17. Sen. Romer, unable to accept defeat, promised he would bring the amendment up for yet another vote at the third (and final) reading of the bill.
HB 1284 will now to to its as-yet unscheduled final vote in the Senate, the third reading. This will require a roll call vote, so the Senators will be forced to go on the record.
Sen. Joyce Foster (D-Denver) pointed out that the bill was not written for patients, but rather for police.
“We’re basing this on the public safety model, and not the medical model,” Sen. Foster said. “If we were basing it on the medical model, it would be a completely different bill.”
“This bill seems like it was more about Chris Romer than about medical patients,” said K. Evan Rude, patient advocate with the American Medical Marijuana Standards Association. “He didn’t consult with any medical professionals or disability activists or patient advocate groups.”
|Graphic: Cannabis Therapy Institute|
”He obviously had his own agenda going into this to make the medical marijuana program a police state that will be operated only by well-funded dispensaries with little care for the patients,” Rude said. “The patients will now pay more for their medicine and have their access severely restricted.”
The Cannabis Therapy Institute is urging the state the instead set up a commission to study the issue to make sure the needs of patients are foremost in any legislation and to make sure this complicated issue gets addressed properly.
To help prepare patients for the ultimate impact of the legislation, Sensible Colorado will be hosting a series of free trainings explaining the new law (along with SB 109, the “Doctor/Patient Bill”). The training sessions will start the week of May 17.