As Romer bill advances, detractors warn of remaining rights infringements

Denver Senator Chris Romer’s revamped medical marijuana bill has won advocates in the legislature and among people in the industry looking for clear rules that they can depend on as they build their businesses. The bill passed easily through committee with some modification Wednesday, but pot users and advocates see the proposed law as overreaching. They say it attempts to address general and anticipated complaints by unnecessarily stepping on specific voter-approved Constitutional rights through restrictions and fees.

Sen. Romer and Atty. Corry
Sen. Romer and Atty. Corry

The medical marijuana community’s most visible spokesperson, attorney Rob Corry, said that is the legislature adopts the bill without further modifications, it would mostly encourage patients to simply avoid forking over the $90 registration fee charged by the state to register for a medical marijuana card.   

That’s because nowhere in the amendment that has made medical marijuana legal here are patients required to register with the health department. The motivation to do so, so far, has been to avoid legal hassles. Card-carrying patients are provided a degree of protection from police should they be caught using or growing marijuana.  

“Increasing numbers of patients are opting to cut out the health department altogether as patients suffer the state’s four-month delay in issuing registry cards and as patients continue to rack up court victories with physician advice and no registry cards and as wellness centers correctly accept physician advice alone. By its own delays, excessive fees and hoarding millions of dollars in patient funds, the state is rendering registry cards irrelevant and superfluous to the process,” said Corry.  

Romer’s bill, aimed largely at preventing doctors from issuing prescriptions to mere recreational users, would require doctors to give full physical exams and follow up care to patients. It would also prevent physicians from receiving any sort of compensation from patients for their recommendation.

In an open letter to Colorado legislators sent out ahead of the hearing, Corry attacked the bill with a section-by-section analysis. In a separate note, he asked lawmakers to substitute the word abortion for the word marijuana in order to gain perspective on the controls the state was seeking. The bill would effect “a major shift in government interaction and oversight of the doctor-patient relationship. There are probably parts of [the bill] that are unconstitutional.”

Sections of the mock-up of an equivalent bill regulating abortion services stand out:

Under the bill, the department of public health and environment (department) will promulgate new rules related to standards for issuing registry identification cards, documentation for physicians who prescribe abortion, and sanctions for physicians who violate the bill. …

(3) Physicians. A physician who certifies a pregnancy for an applicant to the abortion program shall comply with all of the following requirements: (a) The physician shall certify to the department that a patient has a pregnancy and that the patient may benefit from the use of abortion only if the physician has a bona fide physician-patient relationship with the patient applying for the abortion program. (b) The physician shall maintain a separate record-keeping system for all patients for whom the physician has recommended abortion…

Although Romer’s bill stipulates many new provisions defining the doctor-patient relationship, the most controversial component, perhaps, is a section that requires registry cards to bear the name of the physician certifying the medical condition of the patient and that allows the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners access doctor names on the registry.

“This witch hunt provision is unconstitutional,” Corry said. “There is no legal requirement that a patient disclose his complete medical history to the Health Department that issues the cards. Requiring the physician’s name on the card also invites unnecessary disclosure and further witch hunts by law enforcement that may come into contact with the registry cards.” 

Currently the registry is confidential, with no list of doctors, patients or caregivers given out to anyone. Local law enforcement may only consult the registry to verify information on specific identification cards. The registry database resides on a stand-alone computer and is password protected and encrypted. The office and all its contents are locked at night when the registry administrator is out of the office.
The bill also requires physicians to follow-up with patients “to determine the efficacy of the use of medical marijuana as a treatment of the patients debilitating medical condition,” a stipulation that detractors, including Corry, have said is discriminatory and harmful to patients who can not afford to pay for any additionally mandated exams, including patients without health insurance.

A patient told the Associated Press after the hearing Wednesday that buying pot illegally and paying the $100 fine imposed for the transaction should he get caught would be much cheaper than following the stipulations of Romer’s bill.

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