Colorado Moves Prescription Pot Closer To Kansas

Posted on October 31 2009

Kansas has quietly become a border state — to legal (sort of) marijuana.

Whether Colorado’s fast-emerging medicinal pot market will waft across the state line — either in traffic of those headed toward the Rockies for a dose of ganja, or in swaying Kansan sensibilities about weed — is hard to tell.

Still, the fast-shifting climate for medical marijuana in Colorado shows how sales can take hold when suppliers detect a legal opening.

Lawyers specializing in marijuana cases estimate that more than 100 dispensaries have opened in Colorado this year — though no state agency keeps track. None, so far, have been busted. Thousands of people have applied for the right to treat their maladies with pot.

“It’s amazing to see how fast this has taken off,” said Warren Edson, a Denver lawyer whose clients gingerly tread the emerging norms of medical marijuana in the state.

Denver’s alternative Westword newspaper has even created a job for a pot critic.

Sales weren’t legalized

Coloradans amended their state constitution in November 2000 to make marijuana available for a handful of medical conditions.

Then for most of the decade, nothing happened. The amendment legalized pot by prescription but did not legalize its sale.

In translating the constitutional amendment to regulations, state officials first tried to limit a “caregiver,” or pot supplier, to five patients. With sellers reduced to so few potential customers, there was little incentive to get in the business — especially as worries remained that federal agents would bust sellers under the nation’s ongoing prohibition.

Then two things happened. A judge in Denver tossed out the state’s cap on patients per caregiver. And Barack Obama moved into the White House.

Obama rose to the presidency saying he thought the federal government had better things to do than battle states over medical marijuana. Then in mid-October, Attorney General Eric Holder told his prosecutors not to bother with users or distributors of medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized.

So far, that includes 13 states with a hodgepodge of regulations that don’t always make clear how and from whom cannabis can be bought, and where and how it can be grown.

Colorado is very specific about some things. A state-licensed physician must recommend the drug. The doctor can do so only for cancer; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS; cachexia, or malaise; severe pain; severe nausea; seizures; or persistent muscle spasms.

Colorado is rather vague about other things. It does not have any laws specifying who can sell medical marijuana or how a user should get supplies. In that void, some cities have imposed moratoriums on business licenses for sellers. Others — Denver notable among them — have done nothing.

State Attorney General John Suthers said that Holder’s position “relies on the faulty assumption that Colorado has clearly defined laws on medical marijuana. In fact, it does not.”

Few predict how, or whether, the state will ultimately impose regulations.

“It’s a tricky thing because regulating it accepts it,” said Maureen Cain, a lobbyist for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. “There are some legislators who don’t want to give it tacit approval.”

State regulators attempting to interpret the constitutional amendment settled on a few rules.

After getting a marijuana prescription, a patient must submit an application to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, along with a photocopy of an identification showing Colorado residency (although rules for residency are not specified).



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