Chris Romer: If medical marijuana bill he co-sponsored becomes law in its latest form, "I think there's going to be a huge backlash"

Senator Chris Romer feels that many of those under age 21 who have medical marijuana cards obtained these licenses to toke under dubious circumstances -- and he wants to make it harder for them to do so in the future. However, such distinctions between patients' ages didn't make it into the version of Senate Bill 109 (Romer-sponsored legislation Romer pertaining to the relationship between doctors and medical marijuana patients) that was approved by the Senate last month.

Romer wants a similar restriction back in the bill -- and he also wants to see alterations in the most recent iteration of House Bill 1284, a medical marijuana regulatory package that lists him as a co-sponsor.

"I think the bill, as it came out of House judiciary, is not consistent with my expectations," he says. "And if that bill were to become law, I think there's going to be a huge backlash."

According to Romer, SB-109 "originally said you have to have two referrals" if a patient is under 21, "but members felt it violated equal protection, since there's already a specific reference to one referral in the constitution" -- specifically Amendment 20, which okayed medical marijuana in Colorado. "They thought the second referral was too high an impediment."

For his part, Romer believes an extra hurdle is necessary for patients age-21 and under because of what he sees as the high number of patients who obtained the cards for recreational, not medical, reasons.

"Every classroom I've been in with young people, and in conversations with people in my own nuclear family, when I ask them, 'Do you know somebody under the age of 21 with a medical marijuana card who's not chronically ill?,' nine out of ten times, hands go up," he allows. "We know people are getting access when they shouldn't, and I'm a little stunned that the medical marijuana community doesn't understand that this is something the community is going to insist on. They're going to insist on a common sense set of rules for people under age 21."

How, then, to get around the constitutional concerns voiced by other members?

"We are going back to the conference committee," Romer says. "I asked the conference committee to go beyond the scope of funding for the board of medical examiners to revisit this. And this time, only one referral is going to be required -- but before you get that referral, you have to have an evaluation from somebody who's a specialist in substance abuse.

"I think there needs to be a higher standard for those under the age of 21," he continues. "We know that, biologically, people's brains aren't done developing until they're between 21 and 23. So it's important to make sure that those are are chronically ill under the age of 21 have a right to medical marijuana, but only after they're evaluated for the risk of substance abuse. If there's a risk, it'll be documented -- and if the doctor continues to ignore the advice of substance abuse counselors, the board of medical examiners is going to increase scrutiny on them."

The likely result, in his view? "Given the amount of fraud we feel is going on, there will be doctors losing their licenses for false referrals," he says.

As for HB-1284, there have been lots o' changes since it was introduced earlier this month, and while the majority of those tweaks are to the liking of medical marijuana advocates such as Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, Romer is considerably less high on them.

"Let me be very clear," he says. "There is going to be the ability for individual communities, including Denver, to ban the retail model that's become so pervasive."

Romer isn't shy about sharing his own preferences regarding medical marijuana distribution.

"I'm not a believer in the retail model," he says. "I'm a believer in the wellness-clinic model. And I think there will be a lot more to come on that subject."

Does that mean Romer will soon declare war on HB-1284 in its present form? He may be planning to play that card, but he isn't showing it yet. Instead, he's issuing a warning.

"My strong advice to the medical marijuana community is to wake up and agree to some common sense rules," like his proposal regarding 21-and-under patients. And if members don't? Romer says, "I believe the majority of communities will ban dispensaries."

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