Users find medical pot supply limited

Imagine having to drive to the Front Range every time a prescription needed to be filled.

Such is the reality for many Western Slope users of medical marijuana.

“There are over 5,000 medical marijuana users in the state, and a good chunk are on the Western Slope,” said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, a drug-law-reform advocacy group, and a lawyer specializing in medical marijuana law. “We just haven’t seen the development of access out there like on the Front Range.”

Nearly 300 registered medical marijuana users reside in a four-county area — 130 in Mesa County, 60 in Montrose County, 52 in Delta County and 38 in Garfield County — according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

An amendment passed by voters in 2000 allowed medical marijuana users who have registered with the state to possess less than two ounces of marijuana or grow up to six marijuana plants. The amendment also allows that person to designate a caregiver, who can possess or grow the same amount of marijuana, which is what many patients choose to do, Vicente said.

“Some people are too ill to grow marijuana,” Vicente said. “It’s a fairly complicated process.”
Vicente said the law does not limit how many patients a caregiver can provide for, so
“dispensaries,” or collectives of caregivers, have become a popular method of providing marijuana on the Front Range to patients.

“These facilities give patients a dignified, pharmacy-like setting to obtain marijuana,” he said.

No dispensaries have been established on the Western Slope, Vicente said, but his organization predicts the facilities will begin to pop up within the year to meet the demand of medical marijuana users in the area.

Dr. Craig Jones, a Grand Junction chiropractor, said he supports the idea of medical marijuana becoming more available to patients on the Western Slope because some patients who benefit from medical marijuana suffer from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and severe pain that makes traveling to the Front Range dangerous to their health.

“If you’re not using it for personal use, there shouldn’t be an issue with it,” Jones said.

“Marijuana is a safer alternative to a lot of prescription drugs. When someone gets high, they stay at home, relax and eat chocolate or play the guitar.”

According to the state Health Department, patients who would benefit from medical marijuana must be recommended to the department by their doctor and pay an annual fee, but doctors do not prescribe medical marijuana.

Although patients on the medical marijuana registry are allowed under state law to possess the drug, possession of the drug remains a federal offense.

Since 2000, three registered medical marijuana users in Colorado have been prosecuted federally.

Vicente said the federal government usually does not prosecute, and doctors face no danger of prosecution at any legal level for writing recommendations.

However, the fear of prosecution stops many doctors from recommending their patients for medical marijuana, he said.

“It’s flatly false that a doctor can be charged with anything for writing these recommendations,” Vicente said. “We try very hard to educate doctors about that.”

Most medical marijuana advocacy groups such as Sensible Colorado are based on the Front Range, Vicente said, and have had limited opportunities to meet with doctors on the Western Slope who might be more hesitant to recommend medical marijuana.


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