Toughened bill on medical pot clears House
Medical marijuana dispensaries would continue to exist under a bill that won preliminary approval Tuesday in the Colorado House, but they would be required to follow some strict state regulations to do so.
Although opponents of the 72-page bill still argued that dispensaries, which are to be called “centers” under House Bill 1284, never were contemplated when voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 2000, they agreed the proposed regulations would go a long way to address problems.
The bill already included rigid wording about who could open dispensaries, where they would not be located and how they should be operated, but legislators added stricter changes to the bill.
That included modifying it from barring convicted felons for five years from obtaining a license to run a center, to prohibiting anyone from doing so if they have ever been convicted of a drug-related felony.
Lawmakers said it wouldn’t be right to allow those convicted of use, possession or distribution of a controlled substance to legally sell the herbal weed.
“This system is so absolutely fraught with corruption,” said Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “We should be preventing people with felonies, and I don’t care what the felony is, from selling medical marijuana. We’re trying to clean up this industry that has been fraught with corruption since its inception.”
The bill also bars anyone convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor from getting a license to operate a center, but only for five years. Additionally, the bill requires anyone who owns, manages or works for a center to pass a criminal background check, and that the names of all those workers be reported to the licensing agency, which is to be the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Lawmakers also put back into the bill a provision that would allow county and municipal governments to put on local ballots questions allowing voters to ban centers altogether. They even went one step further and gave commissioners and city councils the authority to vote to ban them without going to a public vote.
“If there’s just no question of where their people are going to go, this lets them avoid the expense of an election,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, who proposed that change.
Initially, the bill would have barred caregivers that opt not to become licensed centers from serving more than five patients, except in jurisdictions that ban dispensaries, allowing them to have as many as 16 patients.
Instead, such caregivers can apply for an exemption from the five-patient limit for “special circumstances,” such as areas that ban them. The bill doesn’t define, however, what other circumstances would be deemed special.
Caregivers who get the exemption would have no limit on the number of patients they could serve.
In all, lawmakers considered more than 100 amendments to the measure, not all of which were approved.
More are expected, however, when the bill reaches the Senate. That’s where it heads next if the House gives the bill its final nod, which could happen as early as today.