One bill would require medical-marijuana dispensaries to provide other health services, limit where they can operate and require additional screenings of younger patients.
Another would put the state in the pot-growing business and require dispensaries to have licensed pharmacists on staff.
Both are initial volleys in an upcoming legislative battle to shape a burgeoning industry that has flourished under one of the nation's most permissive medical-pot laws.
The fight will pit those who favor regulating the estimated 100-plus dispensaries now operating in Colorado against those who hope to limit the number of patients one provider can serve.
The latter limitation on providers -- called caregivers -- is common to most states with medical-marijuana laws and would wipe out or seriously impact Colorado's dispensaries.
Facing a flood of new medical-pot buyers and sellers that has alarmed some, state Sen. Chris Romer said he is optimistic the murky rules give lawmakers a chance to craft a new model for the rest of the country.
Who's a "Caregiver"?
"To the law enforcement people who want to put a cap, they really have to show me how that business model would work," said Romer, D-Denver, who is sponsoring the bill requiring additional health services at dispensaries. "I'm focusing more on a robust and strict definition of 'caregiver.' "
That definition came under question last week, when the Colorado Court of Appeals said caregivers must have a responsibility to patients other than providing pot, but did not provide further guidance.
Colorado had 11,094 medical-marijuana users at last count, and the state health department said last week it's now receiving an average of 500 new registrations a day.
Romer Targets College-Age Users
Romer envisions wellness centers that provide some combination of pot, physical therapy, yoga, massage, acupuncture or other similar services. He's taking aim at college-age users by requiring those 25 or younger to submit medical records to a state review board. And he hopes additional regulations -- like licensing, banning felons from selling and advertising limitations -- will calm apprehension about dispensaries cropping up in new communities.
State Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, wants the state Agriculture Department and university researchers to exclusively grow pot in Colorado and to put pharmacists in charge of dispensing marijuana.
The proceeds from selling to dispensaries would be split between higher education and a rainy-day fund for the state.
"We're taking the spot of unsavory underground drug culture," White said. "We can ensure reasonable and reliable potencies."
Republican Attorney General John Suthers has his own group of law enforcement officials, local government representatives and medical experts coming up with additional solutions to recommend to Gov. Bill Ritter.
Suthers describes the current situation as a "free for all" and quickly points out the word "dispensary" isn't in the constitutional amendment voters passed in 2000.
He expects to see plans to cap the number of people one caregiver can serve and rules requiring a physical exam before doctors can recommend pot for patients.
"We need to come up with a regulatory structure that isn't an invitation to lie and cheat and use the guise of a medical-marijuana patient," he said.
Colorado lawmakers are beginning to draft rules just as the dispensary model is becoming more popular.
Four other states permit the pot shops, including Maine, where voters Tuesday approved the dispensary model.
But those states also have in place much tighter restrictions than Colorado, barring felons from selling, requiring vetting and licensing of new dispensaries and limiting sales by geographical area, records from the Washington D.C.-based Medical Marijuana Project show.
New Mexico Limits Patients
In New Mexico, for example, only one dispensary has gained the sanction of the state to sell to more than the four-patient limit, according to the Project.
States are only now starting to draft medical-marijuana rules -- until recently left to local communities -- in the wake of the federal government's announcement that it won't prosecute users in states where the practice is legal, said Karmen Hanson, health care policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"A lot of these programs are so new that they're still looking to improve or create programs that work well," Hanson said. "There isn't necessarily one way. They're all looking at each other."
November 8, 2009