Panel gets an earful on marijuana dispensaries

Both sides weigh in on regulation of pot providers

DENVER — Marijuana dispensaries or no dispensaries? That was the question a House panel heard hours of testimony on late into the evening Thursday.

Nearly 100 people spoke to the House Judiciary Committee either to support or oppose a measure that would dramatically limit the number of patients who can be served by the hundreds of dispensaries that have opened in recent months.

Because of the volume of people who wanted to be heard on House Bill 1284, committee chairwoman Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said proposed changes to the measure and a final vote on it would occur another day. She didn’t say when that would happen.

Under the bill, dispensaries would have the option of consolidating into single nonprofit clinics or be limited to serving no more than five patients. Either way, they still would be subject to local zoning laws, including municipal bans on them altogether.

The clinics would be required to grow their own plants. That would be limited, however, to six plants and two ounces per patient, and no more than 3,000 plants and an inventory of 1,000 ounces at a time.

Supporters of the measure say it will help bring order to the chaos that has been created since the dispensaries started cropping up all over the state.

Medical marijuana became legal in Colorado when voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000, but the dispensaries didn’t come around en masse until after President Barack Obama announced last year the U.S. Justice Department would make prosecuting federal marijuana cases a low priority.

“Amendment 20 did a fairly good job of describing who could have marijuana, but not a particularly good job of saying where to get it,” Dr. Ned Calonge, the state’s chief medical physician, said in support of the bill. “The status quo is not tenable at this time.”

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, however, said the measure should ban dispensaries altogether.

“The voters said we will have medical marijuana, (and) we will have a caregiver model,” Deputy Attorney General Geoff Blue said. “The voters spoke again in 2006 and rejected legalizing marijuana outright by a 60-40 vote. Our position is that if we’re going to expand the medical marijuana program to include dispensaries … then the people should do that and not the Legislature.”

Earlier this week, the House approved another marijuana-related measure designed to ensure true doctor-patient relationships, including the need for follow-up care.

That bill requires a final Senate vote before it heads to the governor for his signature.


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