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Vail law: Colorado’s medical marijuana laws

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Pot dispensaries have come to Colorado’s Vail Valley. Some may argue these dispensaries make it an even happier place. But that misses the point. The pot in those dispensaries, while just as capable of happy-making as any other pot, is for medical purposes only. Got that? No sniggering allowed.

While debate may yet rage over the medicinal benefits of marijuana, the fact remains that medicinal use of marijuana is perfectly legal in Colorado. Its use, however, is narrowly confined.

Following ratification by the voters in November of 2000, Colorado’s medical marijuana law was adopted Dec. 28, 2000 and is found in Article 18, Section 14 of the Colorado State Constitution. The law’s formal title is “Medical use of marijuana for person suffering from debilitating medical conditions.” The title speaks volumes about the limitations of its legal use.



“Debilitating condition” is limited to cancer, glaucoma, AIDS/HIV-positive, or other chronic diseases or medical conditions for which the medicinal use of marijuana produces alleviation of wasting, pain, nausea, seizures, or persistent muscle spasms. The patient’s physician must certify that the patient’s symptoms may “reasonably” be ameliorated by the use of marijuana.

“Medical use” is also specifically defined and contemplates that marijuana may be acquired, produced, possessed and used only in relation to a patient’s illness after diagnosis by the patient’s physician. The physician must be in good standing and licensed to practice medicine in Colorado. The relationship between the doctor and the patient must be genuine.



Possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes is an exception from the state’s criminal laws, and unless all criteria of its use for medical purposes are met, the patient and/or the patient’s primary care-giver may be charged with one or more crimes.

Neither the doctor prescribing medical marijuana nor the patient (and/or primary care-giver) will be exempt from criminal prosecution if the acquisition, possession, manufacture, use, distribution or sale is for any reason other than legitimate medical use.

The state health agency maintains a confidential registry of patients who have applied for, and are entitled to receive, a registry identification card. Criteria to qualify for the card include residency within the Colorado and completion of the form adopted by the state. The form requires identifying information about both the patient and physician.



State officials must verify the medical information within 30 days of receiving the form. The application may be denied if the information has not been provided or is falsified; the documentation fails to state that the patient has a debilitating medical condition; the condition does not qualify; or the physician does not have a valid license to practice in the state. If the patient qualifies, the state has five days to issue a registry card.

Besides identifying information about the patient, and certification by the state health agency that the person qualifies for the card, the card contains both the date of issuance and its expiration – one year from the date of issue. A patient who is questioned by law enforcement about his use of marijuana must provide his card.

A patient may not reapply for at least six months if his or her application is denied. If the agency fails to either deny the application or issue a registry card within 35 days after the application is submitted, the application is deemed to have been approved. If questioned by law enforcement, the patient must provide a copy of his application, including the written documentation and proof of the date of mailing or other delivery to the state health agency. In these circumstances, the application will be accorded the same legal effect as a registry identification card, until, at least, the patient receives notice that the application has been denied.

An approved patient may use marijuana, but only in a “medically necessary” amount. That means he may possess no more than two ounces in useable form and have no more than six marijuana plants with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants. The patient may not use marijuana openly or in public.

Any person who commits fraud in representing a medical condition to a physician, the department of health, or a state or local law enforcement official for the purpose of falsely obtaining a marijuana registry card, or for the purpose of avoiding arrest and prosecution for a marijuana-related offense, commits a class 1 misdemeanor. Similarly, the fraudulent production, counterfeiting or tampering with a registry card is a class 1 misdemeanor.

While perhaps controversial, there are those who sing the praises and medicinal virtues of marijuana. In any event, those who seek medical marijuana must ensure that they comply with the procedures and conditions of its possession and its use.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley.

His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowner’s associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net.


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