The International Cannabis Day festivities that kick off at 9 a.m. this morning at Civic Center Park have a major political component, as stressed in a recent interview with NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre, who'll deliver the event's "invocation."
As such, the Cannabis Therapy Institute is hoping to capitalize at the Capitol by encouraging medical marijuana patients, caregivers and the like to pigeonhole legislators planning to discuss two different pieces of MMJ legislation: House Bill 1284, a broad regulatory measure, and Senate Bill 109, which focuses on the relationship between doctors and patients.
What's the incentive? "If you talk to a representative or senator, get their business card and bring it back to our table, we'll give you a free hemp lei," says CTI spokeswoman Laura Kriho. "Everybody gets lei'd on 4/20 if they talk to a legislator."
Kriho has been distressed of late by the progress of the aforementioned bills, which she sees as a thinly veiled effort on the part of officials to price the vast majority of mom-and-pop dispensaries out of the market. As evidence, she quotes remarks made by Senator Chris Romer, who's been involved with both measures, during a recent Medical Marijuana Alliance meeting in Denver.
"Somebody asked him a question about the licensing fee," she recalls, "and he said, 'I wish you wouldn't have asked that.' And then he said, 'It could be $5,000 or it could be up to $50,000.' And he kept repeating the phrase 'auditors with guns.' He said they'd be visiting dispensaries every five to seven days."
Today's legislative action -- the full House is expected to debate HB-1284, while the full Senate will try to reconcile differences between the two chambers' versions of SB-109 -- doesn't feature a public-comment component. But Kriho, who suspects these discussions were scheduled on 4.20 to "stifle citizen participation," hopes MMJ patients will make their voices heard anyhow. CTI reps will be handing out "I'm a Patient and I Vote" stickers and urging attendees to watch a video, on view below, about how to talk to legislators.
"We did the video back in January, after one of our other rallies at the Capitol," Kriho says. "Miguel Lopez is the tour guide, and he took along about thirty cannabis activists." She adds, "The key to talking to them is, first of all, finding them -- and at the tail end of the video, the video shows where all the different rooms are. And we also talk about how what these legislators really need is education. They think the only way to use cannabis is to smoke it, and they have no idea about the different strains and varieties patients rely on getting from some of the smaller dispensaries they're going to wipe out."
Whether this is indeed the legislators' goal is a matter of debate. Indeed, Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulations, fronted by Matt Brown, is actually in favor of many specifics in both MMJ bills, to Kriho's chagrin.
"They put themselves forward as a pro-marijuana group, but nothing could be further from the truth," she maintains. "Anyone in favor of patients is against these regulations. Anyone in favor of big business and squeezing out the little guy and eliminating 90 percent of their competition is for them.
"Chris Romer and John Suthers keep saying what's happening now isn't the spirit of what voters voted on in 2000," she continues, referencing Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. "But voters certainly didn't vote on big, mega-Walmart dispensaries being the only method of distribution. The constitution says there's a place for smaller caregivers to do this work without licensing and all these other burdensome regulations from the government."
Not that she believes Romer deserves all the blame.
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"It's not just him. It's all of them," she allows. "At this point, we've only had one vote in opposition to these bills. They're supposedly doing this under the guise of, 'This is going to make your industry legitimate, it's going to bring you out of the closet.' But really, it's just 75 new, different ways that you can go to jail because of all the hoops you'll have to jump through and the penalties associated with them. Instead of getting busted for simple possession or cultivation, it could be cultivation of 2.25 ounces instead of two ounces. And that's not good for patients."
Here's the CTI video about interacting with legislators: