Like other states, Colorado is trying to figure out how to deal with the United States Department of Justice’s announcement last week that users and providers of medical marijuana will not be prosecuted when they are in compliance with state law. Here in Colorado, local officials say that a big concern is a surge in new users of the drug, which Colorado’s top health official, James B. Martin, called “an abuse of the system.”
In recent months, he said, thousands of young men in their early 20’s have applied to doctors and, by complaining of severe or chronic pain, received cards to put in their wallets that allow them to legally buy high-quality marijuana. Marijuana is an itemized category of treatment for those symptoms under an amendment to the Colorado Constitution passed by voters in 2000.
“It is exceedingly unlikely that there’s an epidemic of chronic pain among young male adults,” said Mr. Martin, the executive director the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment, which administers the state’s system for medical marijuana.
Figures from the department also show that issuing medical marijuana cards has become something of a medical specialty. Based on figures through mid-August, nearly three-fourths of the 10,003 marijuana permits issued in the state had come from just 15 doctors. One doctor alone was responsible for about one-quarter of the total.
“The administration is working across a number of departments — police, revenue, the attorney general’s office and us — to try to develop a coherent and unified strategy” to deal with the surge, Mr. Martin told The Lede in an interview.
But for local officials, an effective strategy to deal with medical marijuana’s new terrain could be elusive. The city of Greeley, north of Denver, which banned medical marijuana dispensaries last week, took a stance that sounded pretty tough-minded on paper. But the dispensary that had prompted the ban, Generations Natural Medicine — which opened in Greeley in August and was shut down by the city about two weeks later — reopened its doors on Saturday about two miles south of Greeley in the adjoining community of Garden City, which enacted rules welcoming the new business.
The shop’s owners, a father-and-son team — Casey Villas Sr., 57, a retired Postal Service letter carrier, and Casey Villas Jr., 36 — said marijuana has been a healing tradition in their family for many years. They sell everything from fertilizers to help clients start their own marijuana gardens to storage jars, advertised with a sign that says, “As seen on Weeds,” the television show about a pot-selling suburban housewife in southern California.
By Kirk Johnson
October 26, 2009