Marijuana. Most people see it as a recreational drug and are skeptical of its tangible, medical benefits for patients with chronic pain, including those whose use of prescribed narcotics often leaves them vulnerable to addiction.
Take, for instance, Janice Beecher. A Coloradan since 1968, she suffers from osteoarthritis and chronic back pain. Until recently, she had to take as much as four oxycodone just to make it through the day. Fortunately for her, a permit to use marijuana legally allows her to live without debilitating pain to go days without taking this highly addictive drug.
Janice explained that "the blessing comes with the knowledge that I can pick what works for me at the dispensary. I don't have to just take what I can get on the black market."
It is cases like Janice's that compel us to make common sense policy for medical marijuana usage. Colorado voters spoke clearly when they passed a constitutional amendment that permitted medical marijuana use, but the amendment left many oversight and regulatory questions unanswered. That is why we are acting in 2010 to honor the intent of the constitution and help patients.
We need a model that, on the one hand, destigmatizes and makes available medical marijuana for those who have a medical need, and on the other, keeps it out of the hands of recreational users and black market dealers. The amendment did not fully legalize marijuana. To that end, any legislation must address the needs of a number of interested parties.
Patients must have access to physicians in good standing who can make sound recommendations. They also need reasonable access to dispensaries, and some assurance that the marijuana is safe and legally grown.
The general public needs to know that medical marijuana dispensaries and growers are conducting business exclusively with patients, not recreational users or criminals. Coloradans appear willing to permit legitimate clinics, not head shops, in their communities. The public also has little tolerance for bad actors who conduct criminal activity on the side.
Meanwhile, in order to accommodate legitimate patients, dispensaries and growers need the assurance they can establish a viable and sustainable economic model.
And Colorado's law enforcement community needs clarity from the legislature about what constitutes legal marijuana activity and what does not.
Finally, we must clearly define who qualifies as a caregiver, how they must relate to the patient, and what responsibilities that role entails.
With those considerations in mind, here are 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.
• Small, unlicensed cooperatives — one caregiver and up to two patients — may operate if they adhere to the limits of the law and register with the state.
In addition, we will eliminate non-medical dispensaries as well as the loopholes through which patients can purchase from multiple dispensaries. Legislation will provide details to local law enforcement and prosecutors regarding criminalization of dispensaries, compensation to health care providers and caregivers, and punishment for the resale of legal marijuana.
And, much like with liquor sales, local governments will be empowered to license and regulate the dispensaries.
Finally, licensed chiropractors, physical therapists, optometrists and nurses who register as caregivers will have the ability to treat up to 25 percent of their annual medical marijuana patients without a license.
Passing such legislation makes Colorado the first state in the country to create a reasonable and patient-focused medical marijuana regulatory model. And if we focus on helping patients like Janice Beecher while appropriately regulating the market, there is no doubt we can create a common sense policy that works for Coloradans.
By State Sen. Chris Romer and State Rep. Tom Massey
December 11, 2009