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Ritter signs med pot bills
Says measures strike a delicate balance
Gene Davis, DDN Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Gov. Bill Ritter yesterday signed into law two bills aimed at strengthening the oversight of medical marijuana, the fastest growing industry in Colorado.
“In my State of the State Address in January, I called on the legislature to work with my office, law enforcement, the medical marijuana community and other stakeholders to bring bipartisan, common-sense solutions to the chaotic proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in communities all around Colorado,” Ritter said. “The companion measures I signed today strike a delicate balance between protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters.”
House Bill 1284 creates a medical marijuana licensing authority within the Department of Revenue. Lawmakers expect the bill to put about half of the state’s estimated 1,100 medical marijuana dispensaries out of business.
The most contentious part of the measure allows local municipalities to ban dispensaries — referred to as centers in the bill — from operating within city limits. Additionally, the bill requires people opening a medical marijuana center to be a Colorado resident for two years and only allow caregivers to provide marijuana to five patients or less.
Some activists in the medical marijuana community believe that allowing local municipalities to ban medical marijuana centers from operating within city limits is unconstitutional and will force seriously sick patients to travel great distances to get their medicine.
“Sensible Colorado (a medical marijuana activist group), its 5,000 members and Colorado’s over 100,000 medical marijuana patients stand ready to challenge any unreasonable restrictions on patients’ access to medicine,” said a statement from Sensible Colorado Executive Director Brian Vicente. “Certainly any city council vote for an outright ban on medical marijuana centers will be met by swift action to prevent elected officials from denying patients access to medicine without a vote of the people.”
Meanwhile, the Marijuana Policy Project, a policy reform organization that wants marijuana to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol, believes the new laws will legitimize Colorado’s medical marijuana industry.
“By approving a statewide system of dispensaries through which patients can safely acquire marijuana, Colorado is taking a significant amount of revenue away from the dangerous, illicit, and unsanctioned market created by prohibition,” said a statement from Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Ritter also singed into law Senate Bill 109, which beefs up the definition of “bona fide physician-patient relationship.” The bill ensures that doctors who authorize medical marijuana for their patients perform a physical exam, do not have a DEA flag on their medical license and do not have a financial relationship with a dispensary.
Ritter’s signing of the two bills follows a months-long process that included dozens of amendments, plenty of heated debate, and ample headlines. The bills seek to clarify Amendment 20, the voter-approved constitutional amendment that allows people with debilitating conditions to use marijuana in Colorado.
Medical marijuana dispensaries started sprouting up in Colorado following a memo from President Barack Obama’s administration’s saying that they are not looking to arrest people legally using medical marijuana, and a decision by the Colorado Board of Health to not limit medical marijuana caregivers to five patients.
Denver City Council in January unanimously approved a bill that limits where dispensaries can be located, who can run them, and what safety measures dispensary owners must have in place.