State privacy laws keep even cops in the dark over how many are certified.
BOULDER — Because of tight privacy regulations built into Colorado law, few people know the names of medical-marijuana caregivers or how many people are certified to provide the drug in the state.
In fact, the law makes it so difficult to identify the people who can legally provide marijuana that the Boulder County Drug Task Force doesn't know how many certified marijuana caregivers are in the Boulder County region.
That has officers spending considerable time investigating pot-growing operations purporting to be legal; double-checking caregiver certificates and patient cards; and making sure caregivers don't have more than the allowed amount of marijuana, said task force Sgt. Barry Hartkopp.
"We are trying to determine how many we might have and make sure they are all working within the laws in dispensing the marijuana," Hartkopp said. "They are flying under the radar pretty well right now."
For instance, a medical-marijuana distributor in Boulder that was robbed June 16 was unknown to many of the law-enforcement officers who responded to the call for help.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which certifies caregivers and issues patient cards, the confidentiality of providers and users is protected by law, and "no lists of doctors, patients or caregivers are given to anyone."
Prospective caregivers and users must go through a lengthy state-certification process to provide or use marijuana legally.
The state keeps a registry of users but not of caregivers, said Mark Salley, spokesman for the state public health department.
The law, enacted Nov. 7, 2000, to make it legal for people to use marijuana as medicine, defines a caregiver as a person who is 18 years or older and has "significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient who has a debilitating medical condition."
Warren Edson, a lawyer from Denver who helped co-author the law more than a decade ago and who advises about 20 medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state, said there are three to five legal dispensaries in Boulder and about 30 in Colorado.
Robberies such as the one in Boulder this week are among his greatest fears.
"I'm afraid that what happened (June 16) will become more common," Edson said. "I urge security . . . whether it's video or security guards or whatever. I'm very concerned about this."
Dispensary security tight
At Boulder Alternative Medicine — one of the few "open" medical-marijuana dispensaries that allow anyone with a medical-marijuana card to walk in for treatment — security is tight and the owners are vigilant about how they store the product.
Jay Epstein, co-owner of the medical-marijuana dispensary, said his company is in a "really good location."
"We are a block from a police annex, on a second story," he said.
It also allows only one to two patients in the shop at a time, closely monitors the medicine, uses a camera security system and has panic buttons, Epstein said. And, he said, employees keep only small amounts of marijuana and money in the clinic at any given time.
"We go straight to the bank and make deposits," he said. "If someone wants to come in and steal $800 worth of medicine and less than $500 in cash, they can go for it. That's why I have business insurance."
Epstein said more medical-marijuana dispensaries are popping up in and around the area, and demand is growing — his business has seen about 150 people since opening about two months ago.
Mark Rose, 49, of Nederland, who said he is preparing to open a dispensary there called "Grateful Meds," said security has become a major concern.
"I'm more nervous about being robbed than anything," he said.
By Vanessa Miller
June 19, 2009