How to regulate medical marijuana

State Sen. Chris Romer, a Denver Democrat, has assumed a daunting task. He’s trying to figure out a means to regulate what appears to be Colorado’s fastest-growing business right now: medical marijuana.

We applaud him for doing so. It’s an industry that has blossomed rapidly this year, thanks to a state court ruling and a federal decision on law enforcement. And there is virtually nothing that says who may dispense medical marijuana or under what circumstances they may do so.

A draft of Romer’s proposed 60-page bill was made public this week. And — no surprise — it has already drawn flak from a group representing medical marijuana dispensaries.

By Romer’s own assessment, his bill could result in the closing of half of the medical pot dispensaries now operating in Colorado.

One reason that might occur is because Romer’s bill would set up a two-tiered system for licensing medical pot dispensaries and growers, much like the system already in place for liquor licenses. Both the state and a city or county would have to approve a license for a dispensary to operate.

Additionally, it would establish three different categories of medical marijuana licenses — one for growers, one for dispensaries that serve up to 300 clients and one for dispensaries serving up to 1,500 clients.

Critics argue that the proposed regulations are far too complicated and would require too much record keeping by the dispensaries and growers.

We don’t doubt that the proposal and the regulations it would enact could be streamlined somewhat. But Romer is attempting to create from scratch regulations like those that govern alcohol licenses, and the alcohol rules have developed over many years.

As a result, there are many issues that must be covered. Owners of dispensaries and growers must have criminal background checks, but what about partners who aren’t primarily involved in the operation? What about employees? How do we ensure that growers are selling marijuana only to approved retailers? What happens if a business is sold? If it goes bankrupt and a bank ends up owning it? What about quality control for the products sold?

Romer’s plan would also allow the Department of Public Health and Environment to enact stricter rules for issuing medical marijuana cards to individuals, especially to those under age 21. That seems sensible. As investigations by The Daily Sentinel and others have demonstrated, virtually any adult in Colorado can claim some sort of ailment which qualifies that person for a medical marijuana prescription.

His plan would also prohibit doctors who write medical marijuana prescriptions from receiving any payments from pot dispensaries or growers. That should be a no-brainer, since it is aimed at eliminating what would be a clear conflict of interest.

Romer’s plan is not perfect. But his stated objective — to “force this whole conversation back into a medical model” — is entirely sensible. Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, but they later explicitly rejected the idea of legalizing marijuana for all uses. Romer’s measure is an effort to ensure it remains medically related and is appropriately regulated.


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