Colorado: Lawmakers Aim To Eliminate Medical Marijuana Fraud

January 26, 2010-DENVER — Colorado lawmakers say they’re concerned about a big jump in the number of people seeking medical marijuana cards and about a big hike in the number of dispensaries opening up along the Front Range.

“I think it’s obvious that something is out of whack,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. “There are too many people seeking these and obtaining these recommendations (for registry cards) under questionable circumstances.”

Brophy said Republicans and Democrats will work together to find a “happy medium.”

“We want to recognize the intent of the voters (who approved) Amendment 20 and also recognize the intent of the voters when they struck down Amendment 44,” Brophy said.

Amendment 20 legalized medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions. Amendment 44 would have legalized one ounce of pot for all use, as long as it wasn’t consumed in public.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, has spent months crafting a bill to regulate the industry.

“What this does is get rid of the fraud in the system,” Romer told 7NEWS. “Right now, someone can go into a doctor’s office and get a medical marijuana card after a five minute interview and a complaint about an ear ache. That’s not right.”

The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said, “We’ve got to make certain that no doctor receives a kickback or a payment from a dispensary for issuing a medical marijuana card.”

When asked how how many of the medical marijuana cards were legitimate, Romer said, “I don’t know, but 20 percent of the registry, or over 10,000 people, have diagnoses like cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and AIDS.”

“So we know that at least 20 percent of the registry is real,” he said. “We think it’s much larger than that, but we also know that there is a group of people who are using this as a gateway to get access to recreational medical marijuana.”

One of the owner’s of Lotus Medical, a dispensary in LoDo, told 7NEWS that all the doctors they work with have tightened up their policies.

“We believe in the doctor patient relationship,” said Erik Santus. “I think it’s a respectful and well structured one. I don’t think they need to layer more government on top of it.”

Santus said he and many other dispensary owners welcome fair regulation.

He said he supports much of what is in Romer’s bill, but has concerns about a second bill being drawn up by Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

“The five to one patient caregiver (limit) is obviously something that shuts down businesses like this,” Santus said.

He said commercial dispensaries, appropriately regulated, can help patients, business owners and the state.

“Keep them out of neighborhoods,” Santus said. “The scariest thing is setting up 10 to 21,000 watt lights and a watering system to grow something in a basement. There could be mold issues and power issues. We need ‘grow’ spots in commercial areas that can be regulated and tested.”

Santus believes that limiting the number of patients a caregiver can provide marijuana to will cause other issues.

“Creating 12 to 15,000 caregivers by not allowing the commercial dispensary model could be a nightmare for law enforcement to keep track of. And it may also be more expensive,” Santus said. “We’d like to show them how they can turn this into a money making machine at the state and local level.”

The Colorado Medical Society is also weighing in on Romer’s bill.

Diana Protopapa told 7NEWS that, “It defines the physician patient relationship which we believe is necessary when dealing with medical marijuana.”

“But that definition should only apply to medical marijuana,” Protopapa added.

When asked about the small number of doctors who are doing most of the recommending for marijuana registry cards, Protopapa responded, “I think that’s why society believes it’s very important to put some parameters around the use of medical marijuana.”

“As you know,” she said. “It’s an illegal drug on the federal level, which means there can be no double blind trials to prove its effectiveness. Physicians are concerned about that.”

The bill says only physicians in good standing and licensed to practice medicine in the state of Colorado can recommend patients get a medical marijuana card.

The bill also creates a medical marijuana review board that would consider requests by non-veteran patients under 21 years of age who want to be registered medical marijuana patients.

“This isn’t really rocket science,” Brophy said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. We can handle this by doing something along those lines. We just have to make sure that the doctors, who are recommending this, are recommending it for the right reasons and are honoring the intent of the voters.”

Senate Bill 10-109 will be heard in committee, at 11 a.m. Wednesday, in the old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol. Source.

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