CO: Future Of Medical Marijuana Is Cloudy

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  1. Dedbr Dedbr

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    CO: FUTURE OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS CLOUDY
    Fort Collins Coloradoan / 16 May 2010 / Kevin Duggan

    Uncertainty continues to cloud the future of the medical marijuana industry in Fort Collins.

    Local officials as well as marijuana advocates say they are waiting to see what happens next for the budding industry following the state Legislature's passage of two bills aimed at regulating how medical pot is prescribed, grown and distributed.

    House Bill 1284 establishes an authority within the state Department of Revenue to license and oversee medical marijuana centers. The authority would be funded by myriad fees on growers and dispensaries that have yet to be established but are expected to run into the thousands of dollars.

    The measure allows local governments to ban marijuana businesses. The bill was designed to shut down the majority of existing marijuana businesses by increasing their costs and making them jump through numerous regulatory hoops, said Travis Cutbirth, co-owner of Medical Gardens of Colorado, 420 S. Mason St., Fort Collins.

    "The stated intention of this bill was to set the bar so high that most people couldn't reach it," he said.

    "It's like tying someone's legs and hands behind their back, tossing them in the water and telling them to learn how to swim," he said. "If you don't make it to shore, too bad."

    Senate Bill 109 addresses the doctor-patient relationship regarding medical pot, including blocking physicians from working for dispensaries.

    The bill also establishes a medical review board that would determine whether a patient younger than 21 should receive medical marijuana.

    Gov. Bill Ritter has indicated he will sign both pieces of legislation. If that happens, marijuana advocates say they will sue the state and challenge the constitutionality of the laws.

    "I hope he changes his mind," said Rob Corry, a Denver attorney who handles medical marijuana cases.

    Legal tactics are likely to include seeking an injunction in District Court blocking the laws from going into effect until the litigation is settled, Corry said.

    City Rules

    A legal challenge would put the onus of regulating medical marijuana on local entities, said Capt. Jerry Schiager of Fort Collins police.

    "I think that's a good reason to keep our process moving forward so we can protect our local community and our local interests," he said.

    The City Council recently approved ordinances establishing where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation sites may operate. City officials will review the state law to make sure there are no contradictions between it and local rules, Schiager said.

    The state's approach to regulation is similar to that taken by the local ordinances, he said. But the law would require some changes on the local level, including revisions to the licensing process.

    The state law establishes a dual licensing program similar to the regulations for obtaining a liquor license.

    Under the Fort Collins ordinance, an existing medical marijuana business needs to apply for a license by June 30. The application fee is $500.

    If the applicant meets all requirements, including distancing, such as not being within 1,000 feet of a school, it would receive a license carrying a $700 annual fee.

    Applicants that meet every requirement except distancing would receive a provisional license that would be valid until the issue of grandfathering - dealing with existing businesses that don't completely meet the letter of the law - is settled. The City Council is expected to take up grandfathering in August.

    Had to Act

    Proponents of the state's measures say the Legislature had to do something to address the medical marijuana industry, which took off last year following decisions at the state and federal levels about enforcing marijuana laws.

    Voters approved Amendment 20 to the state constitution that allows the use of medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions in 2000.

    The dispensary model that has emerged was not the intention of Amendment 20, said Scoot Crandall, executive director of TEAM Fort Collins, a local organization dedicated to preventing alcohol and drug abuse.

    The idea was to help patients suffering from specific conditions to receive the medicine they need through individual caregivers, he said. Voters did not envision large retail outlets catering to hundreds of clients.

    The visibility of medical marijuana dispensaries sends a message to young people that use of the drug is acceptable, he said.

    "They think it's no big deal - it's just a plant," he said. "It's not just a plant; it's a public health issue, especially in how it affects brain development in young people."

    The state's regulations are not aimed at allowing patient access to medicine but toward restricting it, Cutbirth said. Restricting the supply of medical marijuana will drive up its costs and "add fuel to the black market," he said.

    Some local dispensaries already are struggling financially, said Tim Gordon, co-owner of Medicinal Gardens. The state regulations are likely to put them out of business.

    "( The state ) is definitely making it hard to operate," he said. "We'll see what happens."

    ( Story submitted by claygoodoing.....:wave:....)

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