Medical marijuana “clean-up” moves out of Senate committee

A bill described as “clean-up” legislation for last year’s medical marijuana regulations passed out of committee after hours of testimony that showed a clear rift in the medical marijuana provider community. Concerns were also expressed by the Colorado attorney general’s office that the federal government may decide to step in.

Despite some caregivers calling for an end to the medical marijuana dispensary “experiment” during Monday’s hearing and Deputy Attorney General Michael Dougherty’s explanation of a recent warning by U.S. Attorney John Walsh that noted marijuana remains an illegal drug in the eyes of the federal government, it was clear that most industry members and senators remained staunchly supportive of the burgeoning Colorado industry.

“I think that it is clear in the letter from the U.S. attorney that the Obama administration, the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney of Colorado… are taking a fresh look at this,” Dougherty said.

Senators noted that at least one portion of the bill that had been mentioned in the letter, including the creation of investment funds, were not part of the current legislation. Still, Dougherty said those taking part in the industry were doing so under the threat of possible federal repercussions.

The bill sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, if passed into law would require that primary caregivers register their grow sites with the state and conform to all zoning codes, opens the door for those who have not been in the state for two or more years to work in a dispensary, limits infused medical marijuana producers to having only 500 plants on site and creates two new classifications of medical marijuana license.

The first license allows medical marijuana caregivers who grow more than 30 plants to also grow for another caregiver. The second license allows for an infused-products facility to be licensed to multiple infused-marijuana product producers.

Considerable attention was paid to determining what type of access the public should have to the location of home growing operations operated by primary caregivers. The rights of the neighbors of primary caregivers were weighed against the real possibility that home growing operations could be targeted for theft and robbery. Ultimately, the caregivers won a partial battle, with the committee deciding to limit public access to the information.

During the committee meeting members of some medical marijuana groups argued that their voice had been lost as groups such as the Medical Marijuana Industry Group (MMIG), have hired lobbyists to draft legislation that specifically helps its members. They argued that not all marijuana interest groups can afford lobbyists and they went on to say that the medical marijuana patient was the one who would ultimately lose out.

However, executive director of MMIG Mike Elliot said that his organization was working to create a regulated and legitimate industry that would allow it to continue to function without interference from the federal government.

“We want state laws to be put in place that are stated clear and unambiguous, and that we can be in compliance with,” Elliot said. “At the same time we don’t want them to be unnecessarily burdensome…we agree [the bill] creates more legitimacy and a model that can show that Colorado has medical marijuana under control and that the federal government doesn’t need to get involved.”

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