House panel tweaks pot-store rules

DENVER — Lawmakers made several changes Monday to a bill designed to regulate the nascent medical marijuana industry.

As drafted now, the measure would require the many dispensaries that have opened to be called centers, be licensed by the state, provide a high level of security for the patients they serve, and strictly control how much and where they can grow their products.

For law enforcement officials who have been highly critical of the measure, it would require the centers to digitally tape all transactions and prevent anyone convicted of a felony from having a license to operate a center for five years.

The bill also would allow existing dispensaries to remain in business much as they are now, and give local governments clear guidelines on how they would operate.

“I think this bill represents a very appropriate balancing of the needs of the patient community and the need for regulation and the need for law enforcement,” said Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee that approved the bill 7-4. “It’s not perfect. Nobody got everything they wanted, but nobody ever does.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said it makes little difference if the Legislature calls them centers or dispensaries.

The constitutional amendment voters approved in 2000 legalizing medical marijuana clearly said that only users and caregivers could possess or dispense the substance.

“Amendment 20 expressly said that patients or primary caregivers have the authority to possess 2 ounces of marijuana and six plants,” King said. “The amendment used the term, ‘patient,’ 87 times, it used the term, ‘primary caregiver,’ 27 times, and it used the term, ‘physician,’ 28 times. It never referred to marijuana dispensaries.”

The committee made numerous changes to the bill, including getting rid of a local option vote that would have allowed local governments to send to their residents an initiative banning centers outright.

Backers of that idea said it was unnecessary and unfair to marijuana users; supporters said it removed the only option some localities might have to ban the centers if that’s what their residents wanted to do.

“If a locality did vote to prohibit retail sale, distribution, cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana, it would be a disservice to the medical marijuana patients in that locality,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Denver.

Kagan said current laws already allow local governments through their zoning ordinances to regulate marijuana sales, including banning them from specific locations.

The committee also narrowly rejected another amendment that would have banned centers from operating in residential neighborhoods.

Opponents of that idea said it was inconsistent with removing the local option vote. Supporters, however, said only home rule municipalities have the right to zone out marijuana dispensaries, but without the local option, statutory towns wouldn’t be able to.

“I disagree in the strongest terms,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs. “The Colorado Constitution may allow home rule cities and counties some ability, but … once you pull the local option out, it makes this particular amendment more important.”

The measure heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.


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