Original purpose of marijuana initiative is going up in smoke

The medical marijuana industry in Colorado has gone to pot. There, the obvious pun needed to be said and gotten out of the way, but it’s not too far off the mark.

The marijuana dispensary industry, put into place by citizen initiative, is rapidly becoming both a spectacular failure and humorless practical joke on many who voted for it.

At a minimum, it certainly has not become what was envisioned by the crucial swing voters who, while not supporting the legalization of marijuana, felt that the truly ill needed to have the option of obtaining a remedy that serious medical professionals felt could be helpful.

Colorado approved the use of medical marijuana in 2000, requiring only the issuance of a state ID card certifying the bearer as a medical marijuana enrollee. It was not until Oct. 19, 2009, when the federal government announced it would not federally prosecute individuals for possessing or dispensing marijuana so long as the action conformed to state law, that the number of patients and dispensaries exploded.

While there is no lack of clientele wishing to become “patients,” there is a telling dearth of medical professionals willing to scribble cannabis on their prescription pads.

The Denver Post reported that, as of August, three quarters of recommendations for medical-purpose marijuana came from only 15 doctors and half of those physicians were operating on restricted licenses, barring them from writing many other prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the number of patients benefiting from this largesse has grown to approximately 30,000 across the state.

That number is not surprising, considering the seeming lack of an agreed upon therapeutic model to determine the drug’s necessity or if other less untested remedies might be as beneficial.

The Daily Sentinel discovered that the process for receiving a medical marijuana card is appropriately mellow and can be as simple as a teleconference with the recommending physician. It would be interesting to see what happened to physicians who wrote a few thousand Vicodin prescriptions based on a chat with first-time patients over a television monitor.

Even Gov. Bill Ritter has taken some time out from throttling the state economy to express concern and has reportedly suggested that prescribing physicians should be required to engage in actual physical examinations of their patients, provide follow-up consultation and possess a valid unrestricted medical license.

My strong suspicion is that many voters who pushed the medical marijuana initiative over the top assumed such rules would be standard and not an idea floated long after the barely regulated dispensary business began to pop up in communities like tie-dyed shirts at a Grateful Dead retrospective.

Cities and counties that are struggling to come up with some sort of regulations to control the number, placement and operating procedures for these hemp hostels are also clearly two steps behind the problem.

Additionally, they face the hurdle of a legal challenge to their authority to interfere with the ambiguous rights given to marijuana dispensaries under the 2000 initiative.

The dispensing of this sought-after medication is hardly accomplished in the traditional manner of a brown bottle with a childproof cap. Many dispensaries are branching out from simple distribution of smokable product to exotic food items.

The Denver Post reported that a shop called the Ganja Gourmet is servings such items as pizza and lasagna under such tempting names as “LaGanga” and “Panama Red Pizza,” as well as an item called “ganganade.” But don’t worry; you’ll keep your buzz through dessert, since they also sell cheesecake, muffins and brownies with the same blend of special herbs.

All this would be more acceptable if it had been a reasonable expectation of voters this would happen when the initiative was passed, but I’m fairly certain that those who desired the present situation were in the clear minority.

Let’s all hope the Legislature takes up reasonable and understandable regulation of this topic during the 2010 session. Maybe it can prevent the surrounding states from getting a contact high by bordering Colorado.


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