When it comes to medical marijuana, one of the toughest challenges facing state regulatory agencies is how to crack down on perceived abuses in the system. In Colorado, regulators believe the ease of access to medical marijuana is the reason why recreational marijuana sales have struggled in the first month of legalization. In an attempt to fine tune the system, a panel of Colorado legislators, led by Democratic state senator Irene Aguilar, have voted 13-5 to advance a bill that would tighten restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers and patients.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace spoke with The Gazette about the impending legislation. “That will severely cut down on black-market illegal grows,” Pace said. “This bill puts into place the protections that the citizens of Colorado deserve and expect around the all-too-often home grows occurring in their neighborhoods,” he added. Previously, the Colorado Department of Health tried placing restrictions on caregivers but ultimately rejected the measure.
The proposed legislation would limit the number of plants a caregiver could grow for their patients; and it would make the process of getting a waiver more difficult for the caregiver. Currently, caregivers can get exceptions to plant limits by getting an “extended plant count” exception. Many lawmakers believe that some caregivers are growing marijuana under the guise of the extended plant count and then selling it on the black market.
Caregivers will also have to register with the state health agency and the state medical marijuana licensing authority. Caregivers have 10 days from the moment they are informed of their acceptance to register. If they do not comply, the state health agency and the medical marijuana licensing authority can bar them from ever becoming caregivers again. It is the hope of the legislature that registering with the state will increase transparency and accountability.
The bill also aims at reducing the number of caregivers a patient can have to one. Patients are currently able to have multiple caregivers. It is interesting that the bill restricts the number of caregivers a patient can have instead of the other way around. If your primary concern is that caregivers are selling excess marijuana, why would you place restrictions on patients instead of caregivers?
Although some may see the proposed bill as a step in the right direction, some medical marijuana proponents see it as a money making scheme. Jason Warf, the legislative director for the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, spoke with the Associated Press regarding his opposition to the bill. According to Warf, the bill is nothing but “a money grab” aimed at pumping up the recreational marijuana market.
Without jumping to conclusions about ulterior motives, in a way Warf is still right. The bill specifically states “… it is important for the state to ensure that those people who are accessing and engaging in the medical marijuana system are qualified to do so. Otherwise, the state and local governments will be deprived of valuable tax revenue.” Regardless of whether you agree with the rules, this law is motivated by money and not preserving the integrity of the medical marijuana system.
The bill is expected to be taken up by the legislative body when they reconvene in January, although no specific date has been set at this time.