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Thursday, December 31,2009

A look back at the Aughts

By Pamela White

2009: Medical marijuana

How federal restrictions created Colorado’s medical marijuana industry

Aug. 13, 2009

This past year, a new growth industry sprouted up in the state, especially in Boulder.

While Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 back in 2000, it wasn’t until this year that medical marijuana dispensaries began spreading like, well, weeds.

In his Aug. 13 cover story, David Accomazzo outlined the events that led to the free-for-all. For years, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had enforced an informal patient limit on caregivers, prohibiting caregivers from having more than five patients at a time. That changed in July 2007, when Sensible Colorado successfully sued the state and convinced Denver District Judge Larry Naves to grant an injunction temporarily removing the patient limit from caregivers. And at a state Board of Health meeting last July, after hours of testimony in front of a crowd of hundreds, the board made those changes permanent.

Without a limit on the number of patients they can serve, caregivers (and by extension, dispensaries) were given infinite room to grow.

Marijuana distribution and possession is still prohibited under federal law, but dispensaries got what amounts to another green light this year from the administration of President Barack Obama, who directed federal agents to refrain from pursuing marijuana cases in states that have medical marijuana laws, effectively letting those states make their own rules.

The thing is, there is quite a bit of confusion about what Colorado’s rules are. In “Growing confusion” on Nov. 12, Accomazzo and Jefferson Dodge explored various interpretations of what defines the relationship that caregivers should have with their patients. An Oct. 29 Colorado Court of Appeals ruling defined a caregiver’s “significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient” as going beyond simply providing marijuana to patients, prompting some dispensaries to begin offering other services, from housekeeping to lawn-mowing. In early November, the Board of Health held an emergency hearing to rescind its more permissive definition of “significant responsibility,” but that meeting and that action were successfully challenged in the courts, effectively restoring the more permissive definition and leaving people to wonder whether they should follow that guidance or the ruling issued by the Court of Appeals.

The pot, er, plot is bound to thicken this spring as lawmakers try to pass a bill making sense of the situation — and possibly enacting more stringent regulations on dispensaries.

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