Bill converts marijuana to nonprofit enterprise

DENVER — The number of medical marijuana dispensaries that cropped up in recent months would be pared to a few nonprofit centers under a bill to be introduced today in the Colorado Legislature.

The measure, the second to come before lawmakers this session, is not the bill law enforcement wants, which would do away with dispensaries altogether.

It also isn’t the bill the dispensary owners had in mind, because it limits how many would be operating.

Instead, it’s a hard-fought compromise between the two, said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver.

“This has many of the attributes of many of the compromises that we’ve made,” Romer said. “There are already people … both from law enforcement and from the medical marijuana community who are very disappointed. Our job is basically to put forth a set of ground rules … that defends the rights of the chronically ill.”

Under the bill, existing dispensaries that don’t want to be limited to five patients would have until July 1, 2011, to collectively reform into licensed centers that would operate as nonprofit organizations.

The measure, which is to be introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, also would allow localities to impose their own restrictions, including disallowing the centers to exist altogether.

The bill would bar on-site use of the herb and would require workers at the new centers to receive criminal history checks.

The bill is a companion to one Massey and Romer are sponsoring. Senate Bill 109, which already cleared the Senate, is aimed at doctor-patient relationships to ensure only qualified people are using it.

Brian Vicente, executive director of the pro-dispensary group Sensible Colorado, said there are portions of the new bill his group would like to change, including limiting the for-profit dispensaries to five patients each.

He said the group is planning to push for a ballot question if the bill doesn’t loosen those restrictions, particularly the ability of individual communities to prevent centers from opening.

“It makes sense to establish a uniform system for distribution centers,” Vicente said. “At the same time, we are very much opposed to allowing communities to ban dispensaries. If someone is sick in Aurora, we don’t want them to have to get on the bus to Denver to get their medicine.”

He said the ballot question would require the Legislature to adopt rules governing facilities that could grow marijuana.

Under the new bill, the nonprofit centers would be limited to how much marijuana they could have on site: up to six plants and 2 ounces per patient, but no more than 3,000 plants and 1,000 ounces at a time.

The measure tentatively is scheduled to be heard Monday.


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