Romer pot bill looks to put new controls in place, sparks strong opposition

Denver– State Sens. Chris Romer, D-Denver, and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, introduced legislation today that would more strictly regulate the medical marijuana industry. The controversial bill includes language that, among other things, would circumscribe doctor-patient relationships and payment, require patient records be set aside for state review and set up a seven-member panel to review prescriptions written to anyone under 21. Marijuana rights advocates have already taken a strong stance against the proposed regulations and are urging supporters to call on state lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Sen. Chris Romer
Sen. Chris Romer

Romer threatened to introduce such a bill earlier, before the legislative session began, sending shock waves through the medical marijuana community, which was stunned by the proposals partly because Colorado’s medical marijuana law is not statutory but derived from a Constitutional amendment, which includes by comparison tough language that protects the rights of patients and caregivers here. Romer scotched that bill but made clear that he would be working to introduce new legislation soon. His latest version, Senate Bill 109, nevertheless seems to also tread on rights. Medical marijuana advocates are calling it “The first of the Law Enforcement bills designed to restrict patients’ access to medical marijuana in Colorado.” The bill goes first to the seven-member Senate Health and Human Services Committee, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans.

The legislation would see the term “Bonafide physician-patient relationship” redefined to require physicians prescribing marijuana to have completed a review of the medical history of the patient, an assessment of the patient’s current medical condition and a full physical examination. The legislation would also regular follow-up care to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.

Many dispensaries currently look to provide in-house medical evaluations. That would be difficult to maintain under Romer’s law, where the “caregiver” or “provider” dispensaries would be barred from providing payment to prescribing physicians. The new restrictions would also require physicians to create a separate record-keeping system for pot patients. Also deeply controversial is the panel the law proposes to establish that would evaluate medical marijuana prescriptions to all individuals under 21, save for military veterans. Detractors are referring to the panel as a “pain panel,” pointing to the fact that Romer’s panel would be tasked with somehow determining beyond the opinion of a doctor whether or not any given patient is truly in pain or otherwise requires his or her prescription.

The Cannabis Therapy Institute issued a press release an hour ago attacking the legislation as restrictive, costly and invasive. The Institute opposes the “Medical Marijuana Review Board” on the grounds that the state should not be allowed to override recommendations of a physician.

Prominent medical marijuana attorney Rob Corry performed a line by line critique of an earlier draft of Romer’s bill and earlier decried the pain panel idea.

“The specter of these vulnerable young patients facing a Governor-appointed board of overseers for ‘permission’ to access his or her constitutionally protected, physician-recommended medicine does not belong in a free country. This board’s very existence [would be] unconstitutional.”

The Institute notes that the new regulations requiring full up front physical examinations and follow-up exams at least once a year would cause sharp increases in the cost of using medical marijuana. An exam can cost up to $500, the Institute notes, arguing that such increases would seriously limit access for patients already struggling to pay the state’s $190 annual pot permit renewal fee.

The group also pointed out that many primary-care physicians are presently unwilling to provide prescriptions for medical marijuana registry cards. As a result, the Institute says that Romer’s bill would force patients to find new doctors who will not readily be able to draw upon medical histories and exams as evidence of chronic need.

“Physicians who specialize in medical marijuana shouldn’t be required to perform a new physical exam each year and perform follow up care on patients, many of whom may already have had these exams performed by their primary care physician,” the release stated.

Romer was not available for immediate comment. Spence said she was unaware that the bill had been introduced today, explaining that she had agreed to be added as a sponsor weeks ago on principle. She said she was currently reviewing the legislation and looked forward to addressing concerns advocates have with the bill.

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