Some doctors backpedaling on pot support

As many as three Western Slope doctors who indicated to supporters of a ballot measure to legalize marijuana that they agreed with the idea later told those supporters they never really did.

While backers of Amendment 64 say those doctors are only upset because their opinions became known, at least one said it was all a misunderstanding from the beginning.

Dr. William Merkel, a Grand Junction plastic surgeon, said he thought the amendment that would regulate marijuana like alcohol, thus making it legal, actually did the opposite.

“I have to admit, I didn’t know the ins and outs of Amendment 64 until I read it a couple of days ago in the newspaper,” Merkel said. “I was aghast. What was stressed was going to be the control of marijuana, and when you think about it, it’s already controlled. I should have picked up on that. I guess I was in a fog when I signed all this stuff.”

Merkel is referring to a letter and reply card he received from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol several months ago.

The letter was from Dr. Larry A. Bedard, a San Francisco doctor and past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians who has been helping with the campaign.

The letter explains that the amendment would end prohibition of marijuana and allow for it to be regulated like alcohol. It goes on to ask Colorado doctors who agree with that idea to sign and return a postcard saying so.

About 300 doctors around the state did just that, including nearly two dozen on the Western Slope.

Among them were Merkel, Dr. Mitchell Burnbaum of Grand Junction and Dr. Jose Rodriguez of Rifle.

Mason Tvert, head of the measure to get the amendment passed, said Burnbaum and Rodriguez also complained that they never supported the measure.

Burnbaum and Rodriguez did not return numerous calls to confirm whether they support the amendment or not.

Tvert said he believes the doctors withdrew their backing of the measure because they didn’t realize their support would become public knowledge and now have gotten “cold feet.”

Tvert pointed out that one of them, Rodriguez, checked a box on the card saying he would be willing to submit public statements, op-eds and letters to the editor in support of the measure. That same doctor also wrote a supportive note on the card he signed, which read: “Note: It was time something this sensible (Amendment 64) was prepared in the Legislature!!” the reconstructive surgeon wrote.

In fact, the Legislature had nothing to do with getting the measure on the ballot. It was placed there through the citizens’ initiative process.


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