Regulating Medical Marijuana (parts 1-3 of a 6-part week-long report)

By bananaskin · Jul 15, 2010 · Updated Jul 15, 2010 ·
  1. bananaskin
    Bills establish conditions for dispensaries to operate

    Editor’s Note: This is the first in a week-long series examining the facets of medical marijuana.

    In early June, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law two pieces of legislation that seek to regulate the industry that has grown around medical marijuana.

    Ritter said he felt developing a regulated dispensary system was the only realistic option for the state.

    Both bills were developed and sponsored by Sen. Chris Romer and Rep. Tom Massey.

    Senate bill 109 requires doctors who recommend the use of medical marijuana to their patients have “bona fide” relationship with those patients.

    This relationship requires that doctors are familiar with a patient’s medical history, current condition and have conducted a personal physical examination.

    Physicians also have to document for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the malady for which he is recommending the medication. Doctors also will not be permitted to perform the physical exams at a dispensary or have any financial connection to a dispensary.

    In 2008, Massey said when the federal government said it would no longer enforce the federal law on medical marijuana users, the number of registered users jumped from 1,700 to 100,000.

    “There was a lot of abuse of the system,” he said.

    Massey said eight doctors in the state were writing 75 percent of the recommendations and five of those had sanctions against their ability to write prescriptions in the state.

    Meanwhile, House Bill 1284 — the lengthier of the bills — deals with regulation of the dispensary system itself.

    The concept of retail outlets for medical marijuana was not contemplated in Amendment 20 — establishing the rights of patients and caregivers — when it was approved by the state’s voters in 2000.

    Until the new legislation was passed, Massey said, the dispensaries were working within a loophole in Amendment 20 and calling themselves caregivers.

    “Counties and municipalities were screaming for some help,” Massey said about the need to administer dispensaries.

    In developing the legislation, Massey said he and Romer brought in those with “vested interests,” including the medical marijuana industry, patients, law enforcement and municipalities.

    “I think it will be practically effective,” he said.

    The legislation provides a licensing structure similar to that used in liquor establishments. It also includes language taken from gaming and racing regulation, Massey said.

    The law allows municipalities or counties to choose to “opt-out” of having dispensaries — now called medical marijuana centers. This can be done either by the city council or county commissioners or by a vote of the citizens. Implementing a ban, however, would not exclude patients or caregivers — limited to caring for five patients — from operating within the jurisdiction.

    “We wanted to respect local control,” Massey said.

    If a jurisdiction chooses to license centers, there are broad guidelines in the legislation but specifics, such as location and hours of operation may be set by the governing entity. Licenses will be good for two years. It also requires that centers grow at least 70 percent of their own product, and no product can be imported from out of the state.

    Anyone seeking to open or work at a center must pass a background check, meeting residency requirements and lacking any felony convictions.

    State licenses can only be issued once a local license is issued. The state process is to be administered by the Department of Revenue in the same way liquor licenses are administered.

    Massey said the goal of the legislation was to protect the patients and the community, as well as keep the black market out of the industry and keep the product as pure as possible.

    “I think in the end everyone felt the legislation was absolutely necessary,” Massey said. “This was something that had to be addressed. It was quite a work of love in the end.”

    Rachel Alexander
    The Daily Record
    Publish Date: 6/28/2010


    Authorities mull medical marijuana regulation role

    Editor’s Note: This is the second in a week-long series examining the facets of medical marijuana.

    Law enforcement officials in Fremont County remain uncertain what their roles will be in enforcing newly implemented medical marijuana regulations or what affect the new laws will have on their jobs.

    “I’m sure we’re a piece of the puzzle,” said Sheriff Jim Beicker.

    The Department of Revenue will administrate the new licensing regulations created under House Bill 1284.

    Beicker said he is comparing the new licensing regulations to those governing liquor licenses. He said his office relies heavily on the liquor inspector, and he expects they will do the same in the case of medical marijuana.

    “No reason to reinvent the wheel,” Beicker said. “I see it working the same as enforcing liquor.”

    Cañon City and Florence each have moratoriums in place against medical marijuana dispensaries, pending further decisions from their city councils. Fremont County has implemented temporary zoning regulations to deal with dispensaries.

    Three dispensaries are open in the county and one in Cañon City, which opened prior to the moratorium being in place.

    “It seems to me an industry has been created with no oversight,” said Cañon City Police Chief Duane McNeill.

    McNeill said there are two aspects to law enforcement’s job when it comes to the medical marijuana industry. First, officers are going to have to do compliance checks, determining the amount of product a center is selling and how many patients it is serving. The other piece is protecting centers when they become the target of criminal activity.

    Rocky Mountain Cannabis, the one dispensary open in Cañon City, has been burglarized once, McNeill said.

    The store also was the intended recipient of a box of magazines that led to a bomb scare on Main Street in March.

    “Look at the cost of that: police, fire, lost revenue,” McNeill said. “Who ends up being responsible?”

    Florence Police Chief Joe Morris said he felt the moratorium enacted by the city of Florence was a good move, giving the city council some room to decide what they wish to do.

    “I don’t think we’ve come across a lot of it, if at all,” Morris said.

    Morris said he tends to agree with the state chiefs’ association that because there is still a federal law against marijuana, it’s hard to embrace its medical uses.

    The agencies also are concerned about enforcing illegal use of marijuana.

    In May, the Cañon City Police Department confiscated 17 plants from a man who claimed to be a caregiver but could not provide the proper paper work.

    Until the status of the grower is determined, McNeill said, the plants have to be kept alive in the evidence lock-up.

    To avoid that situation, the sheriff has told his officers to process a suspected illegal grow like any other crime scene but to leave the plants and other equipment in place.

    “We do everything but take them,” Beicker said. “Right now, that’s my direction to my guys.”

    District Attorney Thom LeDoux said the decision about how to investigate marijuana is left up to law enforcement.

    “We treat them like any other criminal case,” LeDoux said. “If we believe there’s a reasonable likelihood of conviction, we will file.”

    Law enforcement leaders also are concerned about the effect of extending communities’ sense of normalcy surrounding marijuana.

    McNeill said he previously led the organized crime division of the Austin (Texas) Police Department, and his cases there dealt in some way with narcotics.

    “Having dealt with a lot of drug cartels, this could open up the door to those cartels,” he said. “They’re going to migrate to wherever the market is.”

    At the same time, the sheriff is concerned about how increased marijuana use will affect crime in the county. He said he plans to track crime statistics to determine if there is any increase in marijuana-related domestic violence or traffic accidents.

    “They can’t (drive) on Percocet, they can’t do it on marijuana, they can’t do it on alcohol,” Beicker said.

    Rachel Alexander
    The Daily Record
    Publish Date: 6/29/2010


    Officials still follow drug-free workplace act

    Editor’s Note: This is the third in a weeklong series examining the facets of medical marijuana.

    Debates and discussions continue to mount around the issue of medical marijuana, and employers are having to take a closer look at what is acceptable and not acceptable regarding it and the workplace.
    Most employers say medical marijuana falls under the scope of an illegal drug within their standard drug policies.

    According to City Administrator Steve Rabe, the City of Cañon City adopted the Drug and Alcohol Policy years ago, which strives to maintain a drug-free workplace as delineated in the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act.

    “As such, a (city) employee that tests positive for marijuana during the course of a drug test, either randomly or by reasonable suspicion, would still be dealt with as having a positive test, regardless of whether or not an employee is authorized to utilize medical marijuana,” Rabe said. “Likewise, an employee who provides notice to the City that they are authorized to use medical marijuana would be informed that the use of medical marijuana would be grounds for disciplinary action as they would be violating the Drug and Alcohol Policy.”

    Under the Family Medical Leave Act, the city employee would have the option of using up to 12 weeks of leave that is afforded to them in order to address whatever medical condition they may have, Rabe said.

    “They would, of course, need to be alcohol- and drug- free upon return to work,” he said. “For the benefit of our citizens, customers and employees, the City of Cañon City does not tolerate drugs in the workplace.”

    In regard to county employees, Fremont County Manager George Sugars said no employee may report for work or remain on duty while under the influence or impaired by alcohol or any drug or controlled substance.

    “That’s been our long-standing policy and continues to be our policy and procedure,” he said.

    Some county employees include road and bridge workers and law enforcement personnel.

    “At no time shall a county vehicle be operated while any employee is under the influence or impaired by drugs and/or alcohol,” Sugars said, “including lawful prescriptions or over the counter medications that may impair or otherwise hinder safe operation of a motor vehicle or equipment.”

    Employees of the Department of Corrections must follow the department of personnel and regulations regulated by the attorney general regarding the use of marijuana, said Katherine Sanguinetti, public information officer for the Colorado DOC.

    “DOC and state agency employees are not allowed to use medical marijuana,” she said.

    St. Thomas More Hospital also complies with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act and seeks a work environment that is free from the negative effects of drug and/or alcohol abuse, Diane Wiersum director Marketing and Communications said in a release. St. Thomas More prohibits all drug use and/or possession that violate state and/or federal law.

    Wiersum said the Occupational Health department or designee will conduct a post-offer, pre-placement drug-screening test on candidates who receive a job offer or transfer from another Centura Facility. It is Centura’s policy that it is a requirement that each associate report to work and remain while at work unimpaired by drugs and/or alcohol.

    School districts also are taking a closer look at their drug policies regarding employees who may show up to work under the influence of marijuana, even with a registration card.

    “It is not something that would be accepted,” said Cyndy Scriven, superintendent for Florence-Penrose schools. “We have a pretty strong drug policy that says it is not allowed.”

    Scriven said people — staff and students — in schools cannot be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol, and she believes staff in a school cannot do a sufficient job if they are high on any type of drug.

    “At this time, we have policies that say no, you may not be under the influences of drugs,” she said.

    Dr. Robin Gooldy, superintendent of Cañon City schools, said the district already has spoken with the district’s attorney about the issue.

    “Our plans are to hold steady to the rules and regulations we have,” Gooldy said. “It is not allowed at school or at the work site for employees.”

    Gooldy said while he foresees the issue becoming more of a legal matter at some point, it is one that every school district and every employer will have to look at.

    Carie Canterbury
    The Daily Record
    Publish Date: 6/30/2010

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