Pot shop rules OK with owner

The owner of a Grand Junction medical marijuana shop wants the Colorado Legislature to regulate his growing industry, but not in a way that puts him out of business.

Chad Geery, owner of High Desert Dispensary on North Avenue, agrees the state needs to adopt detailed rules and regulations to deal with the numerous shops that have sprouted like weeds around the state.

But the budding entrepreneur is concerned state lawmakers who are to wrestle with this issue when the Legislature convenes Jan. 13 will take things too far, making it next to impossible for shops like his to flourish.

“I hope there is regulation on this, but I hope they don’t make it so strict that small business entrepreneurs like myself get thrown out onto the street,” he said. “If they’re talking about a licensing kind of thing, I think that’s a good thing, because the government would be able to regulate that the right people are going to these (dispensaries).”

As the shops began to bloom in recent months, questions began to germinate in some state officials’ minds about who was getting a doctor’s note to receive the herb and whether they truly had a debilitating illness as the law requires.

Last month, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, issued an opinion saying the state had the right to collect sales tax on the burgeoning industry, prompting the state’s Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, to announce plans to do just that.

Suthers also said the state needs to get a better handle on how the industry is operating to ensure not only public safety, but that the law is being followed as intended.

His opinion said the weed doesn’t qualify for the same sales-tax exemption provided to prescription drugs because physicians don’t actually prescribe it. They merely authorize that patients with a debilitating medical ailment would benefit from its use.

“The battle’s going to be whether we’re going to tolerate a dispensary system,” Suthers said. “In a dispensary system, the business model is to create new patients. We have a real problem creating a state bureaucracy to engage in an activity in violation of federal law, and one that basically institutionalizes fraud and hypocrisy. The vast majority of these (patients) do not have a debilitating medical condition.”

Colorado voters in 2000 approved an amendment to the state’s Constitution allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but that new law was silent on whether the state should allow dispensaries to exist.

The matter came to a head only recently when the Obama administration announced it would not smoke out medical marijuana users or their suppliers.

The president’s announcement prompted numerous others to try to open shops, which created a stir among city councils across the state.

As a result, many have established moratoriums or placed restrictions on new dispensaries until the Legislature can act.

“Putting moratoriums and requiring there to be so much distance away from schools and things like that, I think that’s a good idea,” Geery said.

“There’s some people out there who have major concerns with how this business is being run, and I understand that. There are regulations they could do that would appease everyone.”

The most recent data from the state’s Medical Marijuana Registry shows that 820 licensed doctors had authorized medical marijuana to about 15,800 patients.

Fifteen of those physicians accounted for 73 percent of the patients, and five had done nearly half of them.

Suthers said many of those doctors have disciplinary restrictions and aren’t allowed to prescribe medication.

Those numbers have prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ned Calonge, to draft a proposed bill that the Legislature is to consider next session.

“These figures are representative of the concerns we have about whether some physicians really have a bona fide physician-patient relationship,” Calonge said.

“We have crafted statutory language changes that would, among other things, clarify what constitutes a bona fide physician-patient relationship.”


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