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Colo. lawmakers say raid shows need for marijuana rules

COLLEEN SLEVIN
Associated Press Writer

DENVER – Lawmakers trying to regulate Colorado’s expanding medical marijuana industry say last week’s raid of a grass-growing operation highlights the need to clarify which operations are legal and which aren’t.

Under the Obama administration’s new policy, the Drug Enforcement Administration isn’t supposed to target anyone who is in clear compliance with state laws that allow the use of medical marijuana. But Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said Monday it’s not clear exactly what compliance means under Colorado’s law.

The law allows patients to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or for caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants for each patient. However, the law also allows them to claim it was medically necessary for them to grow more.

It doesn’t address dispensaries and who can sell medical marijuana to patients not growing their own.

On Friday, DEA agents removed over 120 marijuana plants from the Highlands Ranch home of a man who said he was a medical marijuana provider. Special agent Jeffrey Sweetin said he became suspicious because the homeowner told the media he expected to make up to $400,000 a year. He also said he was concerned because the grow was in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school and the power needed to grow marijuana poses a safety hazard.

Massey and Romer have proposed creating a state authority to license dispensaries, which they want to convert to non-profit marijuana centers. Centers would have to pay a licensing fee and be subject to inspections. They would also have to grow their own marijuana.

“Hopefully, when the session ends there will be clear guidelines, and we won’t have this uncertainty and ambiguity,” Massey said.

Dispensaries agree they’re on shaky ground without clear state regulations. But many don’t like the ones on the table now.

Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, a coalition of medical marijuana dispensaries and patients, said requiring dispensaries to grow their own pot would be easier for the state to regulate but would eventually put smaller operations out of business.

He said dispensaries are hoping to make changes to the proposal (House Bill 1284), perhaps borrowing some ideas from how the state regulates other industries. For example, he said top-level casino employees are more strictly regulated than employees on the casino floor, which might be a better way to regulate dispensaries.

He thinks large-scale grows, like the one in Highlands Ranch, should be limited to industrial and agricultural areas with the power lines to accommodate them.

People growing marijuana for up to five patients would be able to grow up to 30 plants at their homes under the Massey-Romer bill. Unless the state issues a waiver, anyone serving more than five people would have to be licensed.

The bill isn’t set to get its first hearing until March 4 because lawmakers want to finish balancing this year’s budget first. Another proposal (Senate Bill 109) that would bar doctors from writing recommendations inside dispensaries has passed the Senate and could be debated in the House at the end of next week.

Some medical marijuana advocates, meanwhile, are preparing to take their own set of regulations to the ballot if they think lawmakers end up making it too difficult for patients to get marijuana.


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