Colorado: Medical marijuana bill gets first OK

A bill that would tighten regulations for patients seeking medical marijuana and the doctors approving it for them passed its first test at the state Capitol today.

“This is the beginning of the end of the wild west” for Colorado’s medical-marijuana industry, bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said.
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The 6-1 thumbs-up from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee came with the support of law enforcement groups eager for the state to crack down on what they say are abuses in the state’s medical-marijuana system. But it came over the objections of dozens of medical-marijuana advocates, who packed the committee’s meeting room and argued that the bill would hurt patients for whom marijuana is vital medicine.

“This would be an unprecedented assault on the doctor-patient privilege,” medical-marijuana attorney Rob Corry told lawmakers. “… This would cause human suffering.”

The bill requires that patients seeking medical marijuana have a “bona fide” relationship with the recommending doctor in which the doctor conducts a thorough medical exam and also provides follow-up care. The bill would also prohibit doctors from being paid by dispensaries to write recommendations and would mandate that doctors recommending medical marijuana not have any blemishes on their medical record.

Ned Calonge, the state’s chief medical officer, said the bill would eliminate concerns that some doctors are rubber-stamping recommendations.

“We need to make sure we meet the medical standard of care in running this program,” he said.

The bill is supported by the Colorado Medical Society and law enforcement officials, who said regulation is needed to reign in abuses in the system.

“We have to provide a line between the people in this room who legitimately need medical marijuana and the people who have exploited this program to use and to distribute marijuana,” said Jim Gerhardt, a sergeant with the North Metro Drug Task Force.

But Corry called the bill a solution in search of a problem and said it violated provisions in the state constitution. Numerous patients told lawmakers they worried the bill would drive up costs or make it tougher to obtain their required doctor’s note.

Denver resident William Chengelis said he receives medical care through the Veteran’s Administration but must consult another doctor to get his annual medical-marijuana recommendation because VA doctors aren’t allowed to give such recommendations. Having to consult with the recommending doctor multiple times would add hundreds of dollars to the cost of his care.

“I cannot afford this bill,” he said. “Most indigent patients in this state can’t afford to go outside their basic medical care.”

The bill saw a number of amendments during today’s meeting. One amendment stripped out a provision that would have placed extra requirements on patients under 21 years old seeking medical marijuana.

State Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Broomfield Republican who was the lone no vote, said he needed a chance to study the amendments more closely before deciding whether he supports the bill as it is now written.

“I wanted to make sure we’re not slamming doors that voters wanted to be open,” he said.

By John Ingold. Source.

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