Dispensaries would enhance Colo. marijuana law

March 31, 2007

Brian Vicente, OpEd, Rocky Mountain News

Awaiting only the signature of Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico is poised to become the 12th state to enact a medical marijuana law, allowing seriouslyill individuals access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. Colorado passed a medical marijuana law in 2000, and currently almost 1,200 residents are enrolled in this state-run program.

New Mexico’s legislation stands to improve on Colorado’s law in at least one important way. The New Mexican law charges its state health department with establishing distribution centers — or dispensaries — where patients can obtain medical marijuana.

These centers will be regulated by the Department of Health and distribute this product in secure, on-site facilities.

This stands in sharp contrast to Colorado’s law, which, while it provides real relief for many, makes no provision for dispensaries and leaves patients in a legal quandary, unsure of where to find this doctor-recommended medicine.

Finding safe access to medical marijuana has been an ongoing struggle for patients in Colorado. Since the law passed, patients have voiced concern over such important details as where and how to access medical-grade marijuana. One of the law’s more perplexing provisions allows Colorado patients to cultivate marijuana, but it provides no legal method for the purchase of the seeds necessary for such growth. More difficulty occurs when after months of labor a patient readies to harvest a garden and the usable material from even a single plant pushes a patient over the 2-ounce weight limit that state law allows him to possess. Further, many patients are simply too ill to grow their own medicine or have difficulty finding a “caregiver”whom the state can authorize to grow the plants for them.

Left without guidance on how to procure medical marijuana, ill individuals are forced to turn to the black market— often resulting in problems with law enforcement and violence.

To help stem prohibition-related violence and foster safe access, the Colorado legislature should take a note from our southern neighbors and enact strict regulations around medical marijuana that provide for regulated dispensary sites. This would provide clarity for law enforcement, which often struggles to establish if a marijuana garden is legal or not, and allow patients to access this medicine away from the dangers of the black market.

Brian Vicente is a criminal defense attorney in Denver and the executive director of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

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