New medical-pot rules might shorten list of cardholders in fall
The number of Coloradans who have a medical marijuana card continues to grow.
But that may change this fall when many of those cards expire and patients attempt to renew them under new doctor-patient rules approved by the Colorado Legislature last year, said Ron Hyman, registrar of vital statistics for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Before those changes were put in place, doctors were not required to maintain true doctor-patient relationships. Under new regulations, some of which went into effect last week, not only do the doctors have to more fully examine patients requesting the use of medical marijuana, they have to follow up with their treatments.
As a result, Hyman, who oversees the state’s medical marijuana registry, is hoping for a drop in the total number of people who have cards, which have soared to 127,444 as of the end of May.
“Because the renewal is annual, I’m anticipating this fall seeing the number of applications per month go back up again,” Hyman said. “But after the increase we had last year, it will interesting to see how many of those folks renew.”
Under Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, there is a limited list of ailments that patients must be diagnosed with to qualify, such as AIDS, glaucoma or cancer.
The preponderance of patients, 94 percent of them, list severe pain as an ailment, and the law allows them to base their medical-marijuana-card applications on multiple medical conditions. The law allows patients to petition the department to add ailments to that list, but so far none have been approved by the Health Department.
Hyman’s patient database shows the preponderance of people with medical marijuana cards in the state, 69 percent, are men. And while there are 42 cardholders under the age of 18, the average age of all patients is 40.
Fifty-six percent of all patients reside in the Denver metropolitan area.
As far as doctors approving patients to use medical marijuana, the new doctor-patient relationship laws that require them to do follow-up treatments after approving their ailments has resulted in the state not seeing the same, small number of physicians giving them out as before.
In 2009, 15 doctors approved nearly three-fourths of the cards. Now, about 1,100 doctors around the state are approving the use of medical marijuana, with the top five combining to approve less than 30 percent of the users.
This fall, those doctor-patient laws will have been in effect for a year. Because the cards must be renewed annually, Hyman said the new laws may result in a reduction in the number of approved cardholders statewide, something he would like to see because it would indicate the new laws are working.
“I’m hoping for the best, but I’m planning for the worst,” he said of the renewals. “We’re going to ramp up staffing and equipment and everything, so we’re ready for a deluge in case it comes.”