Medical marijuana entrepreneurs, patients treated as unloved cash cows

Gov. Bill Ritter is drawing heat for his proposal to sweep $9 million from the state’s medical marijuana patients registry fund to try to balance the state’s budget. Last year the state tapped the fund for $3 million. Pot industry supporters say the move, then and now, is unconstitutional and that it diverts funds desperately needed to support the industry and streamline the dragging application process for pot use authorization.

Meantime, Larimer County commissioners Monday night voted unanimously to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas after local leaders said they thought the marijuana businesses should be confined to urban spaces. County dispensary owners were enraged, arguing that they’ve spent thousands of dollars setting up shop and getting licenses and trying to follow rules that keep changing.

Patient advocates are pushing back against what they see as a pattern that amounts to usury on the part of state lawmakers.

K. Evan Rude, a patient advocate from the American Medical Marijuana Standards Association located in Boulder County, told the Cannabis Therapy Institute that Ritter is a prime example of the kind of official who seems to disdain the industry’s entrepreneurs and patients even as he looks to cash in on their work and their sickness and spending power.

“He built his career as a prosecutor and as governor putting people in jail for marijuana crimes. He has been vehemently against medical marijuana for his entire career. But now he feels it’s OK to take money from the sick and dying people who use cannabis as medicine to balance the state budget. He should be ashamed of himself.”

The Institute reports that the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment is currently backlogged with more than 70,000 medical marijuana patient applications and that each application contains a check paying a $90 fee. In other words, the state is sitting on more than $6 million in uncashed checks and that sick patients, whatever Ritter and the Larimer County Commissioners may think of them, are left in the lurch.

“The average wait for the state to process the simple two-page patient application is 7 to 9 months. The state should work on reducing the backlog of patient applications and use the Registry fees to help patients. Instead, [if Ritter’s proposal is adopted] the money will go into the General Fund, and the funds may eventually be used to prosecute and imprison patients and their physicians for medical marijuana ‘crimes,'” the Institute argued in a release.

The Institute cites the Colorado Constitution medical marijuana amendment, which states that Colorado’s marijuana registry fees shall only be used to pay “any direct or indirect administrative costs” of the program.

Evan Dreyer, the Governor’s spokesperson, replied that the proposed transfer is “contingent upon the legislature changing the language” in related statutes to make the transfer legal. That’s what happened in the spring and there seems to be little lawmaker opposition to the plan on the left or right to do so again. Pot champions in positions of power are less easy to find than are detractors.

Trevor Hughes, reporting Monday from the Larimer County Commission hearing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, wrote of the absurdities that often surround the debate over medical marijuana on the ground. He reported that several of the speakers at the hearing derided the medicinal use of marijuana as a way to justify the new Larimer rules, including a Wayde Krueger, who identified himself as an anti-drug school speaker.

“Let’s end the charade,” said Wayde Krueger… “This is not medicine … since when has smoking anything been good for you?”

Krueger then told commissioners that his daughter, who died of cancer last year, smoked marijuana to ease her pain, a decision he supported.

The Commissioners rejected a proposal to put the zoning question before Larimer voters to decide.

As the Colorado Independent reported, the cash-strapped state collected more than $7 million in dispensary fees this month.

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