Local towns could see a flood of new applications ahead of year-long moratorium, which starts July 1
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Local towns could see a flood of applicants for three new types of medical marijuana licenses before a year-long statewide moratorium on new facilities takes effect July 1, said Sean McAllister, a Breckenridge attorney who also serves on Gov. Bill Ritter’s drug policy task force.
The moratorium is part of a state law passed by the legislature but not yet signed by Gov. Bill Ritter. A local caregiver, who asked not to be identified, said via e-mail he doesn’t think Gov. Ritter will sign the bill, based on public opinion. See the results of a web survey on the topic here.
Meanwhile, McAllister is also involved with a group of attorneys preparing a legal challenge to Colorado House Bill 1284. Medical marijuana advocates say several provisions the new state law, which includes the moratorium, should be overturned because they unduly restricts access to cannabis a — constitutionally protected medicine.
“Essentially, some attorneys — me included — think it’s flat-out unconstitutional. It’s like allowing cities to ban pharmacies,” said Brian Vicente, of Sensible Colorado, a statewide drug policy reform group. Vicente was referring to the provision allowing towns to completely ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
The one-year moratorium was adopted to give state agencies and local jurisdictions time to draw up new regulations. The state law will require a complex rule-making process on the part of the state health department and set up a huge new bureaucracy in the revenue department to administer fees, licensing and inspections, somewhat similar to the system in place for liquor stores.
The new law also includes provisions that will benefit patients and caregivers, according to Marijuanapatientadvocates.com, including:
* Patients are now allowed to grow their own medicine AND name a MMJ Center or primary caregiver. (page 62 lines 4-5)
* “Higher Plant Count” recommendations in excess of 6 plants now recognized by Health Department. (page 65 line 25 – page 66 line 3)
* “Infused Products Manufacturer” allowed to sell to any licensed MMJ center in the state without patients registered to the infused products manufacturer’s name. (page 41 lines 19-21)
* “Infused Products Manufacturer” allowed to grow all medicine needed to make their products. (page 40 lines 16-23)
* Requires the Dept of Health to create a formal policy to add new conditions to the MMJ registry. (page 57 lines 12-15)
* Encourages Colorado banks and credit unions to work with our industry. (page 38 lines 19-21)
Click here to see the line by line references.
New local laws?
“People are already coming in and asking for grow permits … and the localities don’t have them yet,” said McAllister, who is working with several local clients to help them establish medical marijuana facilities before the moratorium kicks in. “It’s going to be very competitive to apply.”
McAllister estimated that half the existing dispensaries in the county could shut down because of stringent new licensing provisions and fees that could range between $10,000 and $20,000.
Local jurisdictions will have to either develop their own regulations or adopt the state law as written, said Vicente. Vicente said that, based on comments made at hearings on the bill, he thinks lawmakers also included the one-year moratorium as a way to slow the rapid proliferation of new dispensaries.
McAllister said three deadlines are looming. Applications for any new operations are due by July 1. By Aug. 1, producers of edible marijuana products have to send in a non-refundable deposit, and by Sept. 1, dispensaries have to show they are producing 70 percent of their medical cannabis themselves, and not getting it from independent growers.
McAllister said the big question is how that requirement will affect access to the drug for more than 50,000 licensed medical marijuana users in Colorado.
The 70-30 provision was included in the state law based on law enforcement concerns about independent grow operations. McAllister said. Up to now, many grow operations have been operating in a gray area.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor said recently that there likely are numerous grow operations around the county that nobody knows about. The new state law will make independent commercial growers entirely illegal.
Another big change is that the caregivers will be limited to five patients — if they want to serve more than five patients, they will have to become fully licensed dispensaries, with all the associated regulatory and reporting obligations, according to McAllister.
“My sense is, localities will have to come up with a way to regulate … it’s going to cause some serious brain damage the next six months,” he said.
Sensible Colorado is preparing a May 30 stakeholder meeting in Denver to develop a grassroots plan for ensuring continued safe access to medical marijuana in Colorado. Click here for more information.