White snuffs bill aimed at granting state control over marijuana growth and distribution

State Sen. Al White (R-Hayden) has scrapped plans for a bill this session that would have set up a state medical marijuana growing and distribution monopoly to keep drug cartels out of Colorado. It also would have required prescriptions to be filled out by licensed pharmacists.

White Monday told the Colorado Independent that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers advised him the state couldn’t get into the growing business, so White is deferring to a bill being carried by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, although he’s leery of the bureaucracy it could create.

medical marijuana

“I thought it was a fairly simple solution,” White said of the proposal he first unveiled in November, “but the attorney general said we would be in contravention of federal law if the state took that level of control and that we couldn’t do it, and so as a result of that I said, ‘Well, you can’t fight city hall … or you can’t fight Washington, D.C.’”

White also said he underestimated what it would take to put together a bill to better regulate an industry booming in the last year after voters first amended the state constitution in 2000 and the Obama administration last year indicated it wouldn’t prosecute. “Honestly, it’s turned into a bigger issue than I recognized, and given the Joint Budget Committee obligations, I really didn’t have time to pursue the details that were necessary.”

Romer wants to set up a system – funded by tax revenues generated from pot sales – to register and inspect dispensaries and growing operations. He’s been criticized by those in the business for overreaching with his proposed registry database– although he later said the state would defend anyone complying with state laws who is targeted by federal law enforcement.

Romer’s bill also seeks to more closely scrutinize those under 21 seeking pot prescriptions. All of which amounts to significant new state agency for overseeing an industry originally meant to ease the suffering of people with a very specific set of medical conditions.

“Romer’s got an ambitious plan,” White said. “I was accused of growing government, and my plan would have been relatively simple in the growth of government, but [Romer’s bill] is going to grow government a lot. It will be duplicating a couple of bureaucracies like the bureaucracy in the department of health that inspects restaurants.”

Cities and towns from Fort Collins to Denver on the Front Range and Aspen to Eagle on the Western Slope have been struggling with everything from zoning laws for locating dispensaries to better ways for police to determine who’s growing and distributing pot legally. Breckenridge removed some of the confusion by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana for everyone over 21, but that’s caused a whole new level of angst for some residents and business owners.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, whose district includes Breckenridge, said the legislature obviously needs to craft a bill to regulate the bud boom, but she isn’t sure what form it will ultimately take.

“It’s pretty clear something needs to be done,” Scanlan said. “If you have tax revenues supporting a regulatory structure, that makes for a different equation, but the real question is, regulated as a pharmaceutical or regulated like we do alcohol? There are different jurisdictions potentially and different regulations that would come into play depending on how you interpret that.”

Scanlan wants to hear what Martha Rudolph, the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has to say about state oversight of industry. She also said Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, will likely sponsor the bill in the House, making it a bipartisan effort. Massey didn’t return a call requesting comment Tuesday.

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