Policing pot activity made easier by recent legislation
Local law enforcement agencies aren’t concerned where hundreds of medical marijuana patients in the Grand Valley are getting their weed.
That’s because they’ve seen no evidence the illegal pot market in the region has grown to make up for the recent banning of dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in every jurisdiction in Mesa County except Palisade.
“As far as marijuana complaints go, we haven’t seen a change, really. No more, no less,” said Kate Porras, spokeswoman for the Grand Junction Police Department. “We still have the same amount of complaints about full grows or residential grows as we did before. The difference now with the laws that have been evolving over the last couple of years, they really clarified the law a lot more. They’ve defined what is and isn’t illegal. That’s made it easier for our officers to deal with complaints.”
The bans and moratoriums here and elsewhere in Colorado come just as those new state laws are coming online. Their combined effects are profoundly impacting the state’s medical marijuana industry. As a result, enforcing the new laws on dispensaries, caregivers, patients and doctors is expected to remain in flux as the smoke clears.
Julie Postlethwait, the spokeswoman for the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, said it’s going to take some time before the new agency gets a handle on every aspect of its duties, and the 77 pages of new regulations that went into effect this month.
That includes the opening of new division offices around the state, one of which is to be in Fruita.
“We’re going to be drinking from a firehose for at least a year,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot coming at us for the next couple of months, but it will all straighten out to where we have a fairly strong, legitimate medical marijuana industry in Colorado.”
The new Fruita office is to open in the next few weeks. The five enforcement officers stationed there will be tasked with ensuring centers across the expansive Western Slope are complying with the strict new rules.
At first, that task will be difficult as the landscape for the medical marijuana industry continues to change as numerous jurisdictions decide if they want to ban them, and dispensary owners weigh whether the tough, and costly, new rules are worth complying with to remain in business.
The agency’s enforcement officers are to patrol all dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product manufacturers, all of which must register with the state.
“Their main focus will be regulation and enforcement, making scheduled compliance checks, making sure that everybody’s abiding by the rules,” Postlethwait said. “When there are problems, they’ll go in and find out specifically what the situation is and work to bring the entity into compliance, or take sanctions against them. We are a law enforcement agency, and we will partner with other law enforcement agencies to provide information or take action ourselves.”
The state officers will check to see that everyone working at the centers have no history of drug convictions, and the centers are installing the extensive video equipment to record every sale, growing their own marijuana or purchasing it from other dispensaries, and aren’t owned by out-of-state residents.
But getting up to speed on all that will take time.
Already the new agency had to tell dispensary workers statewide to delay putting in their paperwork for background checks, which were due July 1, because it has been overwhelmed by the ones it already has.
“When we first opened that up, we maybe had 12 people show up in the month of May,” Postlethwait said. “The last weeks before the deadline, we just had hundreds of people show up. That’s when we learned we could only process between 60 and 70 a day. We had to make an accommodation.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is busy enforcing who gets medical marijuana cards and overseeing which patients are served by caregivers.
Ron Hyman, director of the state’s medical marijuana registry, said his office equally has been inundated, and he expects it to get worse.
Hyman not only is overseeing who gets the cards, but what caregivers are operating, too. New rules went into effect this month requiring caregivers to register with the state and cite which cardholders they are serving.
By law, caregivers are limited to serving no more than five patients at a time. As a result, their grow operations are limited to six plants per patient. A new, confidential database Hyman is maintaining lists who they are, where they are located and which patients — by their medical marijuana registration numbers — they are serving.
Unlike Postlethwait’s database on grow operations, which anyone can access, only law enforcement agencies can access Hyman’s list, and then only to verify whether a specific patient or caregiver is registered.
Under the new law, patients searching for a caregiver can contact Hyman’s office to locate someone in their area.
While the law allows patients to seek a waiver if a caregiver they want to use already has the maximum five, so far none have. Caregivers are not allowed to seek waivers to take more patients.
Hyman, however, expects that to change in the coming months as more jurisdictions around the state ban dispensaries.
“We have not received any requests for waivers yet, so I don’t know exactly what types of reasoning or justifications patients will submit,” he said. “I should know more about that in the coming months. I’m anticipating those will start coming in, particularly as more and more counties go with the moratoriums.”
Under another new law that went into effect July 1, it will be the job of the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners to police its own when it comes to medical marijuana.
Previously, only those doctors who had no restrictions or special conditions placed on their licenses were allowed to approve the use of the medicinal weed.
Under the new law, when the board places a restriction or condition on a medical license, it must say specifically if that physician can approve the use of marijuana.
The board’s main focus is to ensure physicians are approving the use of marijuana for legitimate reasons.