Changes to medical marijuana law in Colorado cleared their first hurdle on Thursday.
A House Committee signed off on changes to the nation's most expansive set of regulations for how pot is grown and sold. Most of those rules haven't taken effect yet, but lawmakers are making changes to some parts that elicited complaints from patients, doctors, and law enforcement.
Many patients, though, complain that revisions don't change two provisions most unpopular with marijuana advocates-a requirement that commercial pot transactions be recorded, with the tapes available to law enforcement, and a requirement that dispensaries grow 70 percent of the pot that they sell.
Some angrily testified that all regulations violate the spirit of a constitutional amendment Colorado adopted in 2000 to legalize medical pot.
"This entire exercise has been a frightening boondoggle" said Robert Chase, who founded the Colorado Coalition of Caregivers & Patients.
House Judiciary members of both parties backed the bill, though, and it passed 12-0 after hours of debate. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Tom Massey, insisted that bill doesn't make significant changes to the sweeping rules approved last year after months of debate.
There was plenty to argue about in this year's version, though. Among the bill's changes:
-A moratorium on state licenses to sell pot commercially, due to expire this summer, would be extended until mid-2012.
-Marijuana patients who wish to grow their own pot at home would have to register where their plants are located.
-Makers of products infused with cannabis, such as pot brownies, would be limited to 500 plants.
-Dispensaries would be limited in the number of the cloned marijuana plants they could sell.
-Dispensaries would have to behave more like medical clinics in regard to patient's privacy-no tossing of patient records in public garbage cans.
-Doctors whose medical licenses are restricted or otherwise limited by the Colorado Medical Board could still write marijuana recommendations with the board's permission.
The revisions have divided the Colorado industry. Some dispensary owners and marijuana industry advocates say that the changes are needed and will promote acceptance of the industry.
"We welcome reasonably regulations and the responsibility that come with them," said Norton Arbeleaz, head of the Medical marijuana Industry Group and a member of the state panel that refined last year's law into regulations expected to take effect next month.
Others vowed lawsuits and more debate. Robert Corry, another member of the rule-making panel and a lawyer who represents pot sellers, predicted more fighting over the grow-your-own 70 percent requirement. Regulators say that the requirement is needed to ensure that black market drugs aren't being sold in dispensaries. But dispensary owners frequently compare the rule to requiring grocery stores to grow the food they sell.
"The state is going to have to be bludgeoned in the head that this is unenforceable" Corry said.
House Bill 1043 now moves to another House committee before it goes to the full body for a vote.
written by: Jeffrey Wolf