Pot half full with the marijuana bill

The bill to regulate medical marijuana that is now working its way through the Colorado Legislature — and being significantly rewritten in the process — looks to be substantially better than when it was first introduced.

But the legislation does not — and cannot — address the larger question of whether medical marijuana in Colorado and other states has become a fiction through which marijuana is being effectively legalized for nonmedical users. Confronting that issue will likely require Colorado voters to make another decision at the ballot box.

House Bill 1284, introduced by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, initially went too far in attempting to limit and curtail dispensaries for medical marijuana. It would lave limited them to having no more than five customers apiece, a restriction that would have put most of them out of business. And it would have required the dispensaries to become nonprofits.

Neither of those rules are applied to any other businesses that sell legal products in Colorado, including liquor stores and pharmacies.

Fortunately, Massey said he is dropping both of those provisions and will instead have the legislation concentrate on more enforceable rules for dispensaries.

For instance, the pot retailers would be required to obtain and pay for an operating license from the state. The legislation would prohibit consumption on a dispensary premises, limit how much marijuana they can have on site and strictly control their sources for obtaining pot.

These sorts of rules make a lot of sense. In the wake of last year’s state court ruling and federal enforcement decision that substantially changed the rules for medical marijuana, the aim of the Legislature should be very specific. Lawmakers should seek to ensure that consumers of medical marijuana can trust what they are buying, that communities are protected from unscrupulous operators and can apply reasonable land-use rules. Legislation should also ensure that medical marijuana records are adequate so that law enforcement can determine only those who are legally entitled to sell or possess medical marijuana are doing so.

But, when it comes to who is legally entitled to obtain medical marijuana, the language of the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000 was so open-ended that it is difficult to limit, if a physician is willing to say marijuana could potentially help with a person’s ailment.

If legislators and law enforcement authorities want tightened restrictions, they need to craft an amendment to take back to voters.

In fact, it might very well be time to do just that. After all, conditions have changed dramatically in the 10 years since voters approved Amendment 20, and even in the four years since they rejected an amendment that would have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for everyone.


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