The fight to regulate the rapidly growing number of medical-marijuana dispensaries took a drastic swing toward shutting down the hundreds of Colorado storefronts after state Sen. Chris Romer announced Sunday that a pending pot bill would reflect the wishes of law enforcement groups.
The attorney general, sheriff's organizations and police groups want a five-person limit on the number of patients a pot provider — dubbed a "caregiver" — can serve.
Romer, a Democrat from Denver, said the bill reflecting that cap will likely be introduced once the legislative session starts Wednesday by state Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who could not be reached for comment.
It's a stark departure from Romer's original bill, which would have required dispensaries to provide other health services and to register their products in a database for law enforcement purposes.
Romer, at one point the dispensaries' most vocal legislative champion, distanced himself from the new bill and said the concession follows a Friday-afternoon meeting with the governor and law enforcement representatives. He also blamed pot advocates for being too resistant to regulation.
"Almost all the cannabis people thought my bill was too restrictive. Maybe they need to wake up," Romer said. "When the sheriffs roll their bill out, they'll understand how reasonable my bill really was."
Romer will carry a separate bill to more strictly define the relationship between doctors and their pot-seeking patients, an idea that has remained the only common ground between law enforcement and some cannabis advocates throughout the debate. The language was once part of his original bill.
It's too early to tell what will happen to the new legislation, said former legislator and current Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown. He's carrying a city bill aimed at more evenly distributing dispensaries, keeping them farther from schools and imposing thousands of dollars in fees. That proposal gets a hearing tonight.
"This is the third time he's made changes. It's an election year. There's no telling what's going to happen. Good Lord," Brown said of Romer.
Brown added that the five- person limit "could be forcing (patients) back into the parks and back alleys."
Last July, the Colorado Board of Health rejected a proposal to limit marijuana caregivers to five patients each.
Cannabis advocates said if the new bill passes as is, it will snuff out the burgeoning medical-marijuana industry, but they remained hopeful that they can successfully argue for changes that will allow many of them to continue operating.
Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, said his group and others will plead their case before lawmakers.
"Obviously, it's all very new and fluid," said Brown, who is unrelated to the councilman. "But we're ready to do whatever it takes."
January 11, 2010