Kathleen Chippi is among the area's most active medical marijuana activists; see a video of her below going after both current Denver mayoral candidate Chris Romer and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. Her latest mission: to raise funds for a lawsuit to stop official implementation of HB 1284, Colorado's main MMJ regulatory measure. She's already spent thousands on the quest, and criticizes attorneys who promised to sue last May but haven't.
Chippi, the former owner of the dispensary known as One Brown Mouse Parlor/Cannabis Healing Arts, has already made one high-profile attempt to stop HB 1284. As documented on her website, CannabisLawsuits.com, attorney Andrew Reid filed a petition with the Colorado Supreme Court on January 5 challenging the measure on a constitutional basis. (Read the petition below.) Five days later, the court refused to hear the case -- meaning it needed to be re-filed at the district court level.
This ruling slowed down the process in a big way, but Chippi was eager to move forward anyway. However, she didn't have enough money to do so then, and still doesn't. How much does she need?
"The quote from the attorneys is $25,000 to $50,000," she notes. "Right now, most of the cost goes to prepping our expert testimony. The arguments are already written, but the attorney has to spend hours with each person testifying to make sure we know what we're saying when we get on the stand. It's labor in the process of going to court."
For months, Chippi has tried to raise this amount with little luck so far. And after funding the unsuccessful Supreme Court bid with $25,000 of her own money, she's tapped out -- although she believes she's owed a considerable chunk of change. Shortly after the passage of HB 1284, she says she gave an attorney she declines to name a $5,000 retainer toward a future lawsuit -- and not only has such a suit never materialized, but the attorney has yet to return the money.
She's equally frustrated with other lawyers who promised action last year but haven't delivered, in her view. Chippi points to a May 17, 2010 press release -- read it below -- entitled "Attorneys Announce Plan to Sue if House Bill 1284 is Approved." Prominent figures name-checked in it include Brian Vicente, Rob Corry, Jessica Corry, Bob Hoban, Lauren Davis and Sean McAllister.
The entire process has left her feeling "traumatized," she admits. "I had a hundred of my patients who wanted to be plaintiffs last year, and now I've got more. People randomly come up to me, and I say, 'Sure, you can be a plaintiff.' But we can't get started unless I raise the money."
The clock is ticking. Full implementation of HB 1284 takes place on July 1, "and if we don't file before then, we can't get an injunction," she says. "We want an injunction, because that means everyone who was in business under the constitutional amendment gets to remain in business until the courts decide if HB 1284 is constitutional. But after July 1, patient privacy will be gone. Yes, you'll be on video, and all your medical records will be accessible to the Colorado Department of Revenue's information division and any law enforcement agency -- and that includes the feds.
"The sale point on donating for a medical marijuana center is this: The feds are going to bust you. It's just a matter of when. And if we get an injunction, we're operating under the constitution, just like we did before 1284. The feds didn't bother us for nine-and-a-half-years before then, and I attribute them being more interested in Colorado to the general assembly creating 1284."
The odds against Chippi are long, she knows. But she's convinced her goal is not only just but reasonable.
"People call me a radical because I want to sue," she concedes. "But it's not radical to want to abide by the constitution -- and that's all I'm asking for."
Hoban & Feola press release:
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ATTORNEYS ANNOUNCE PLAN TO SUE IF HOUSE BILL 1284 IS APPROVED
May 17, 2010
Effort will include representation for indigent medical marijuana patients
DENVER -- On behalf of thousands of medical marijuana patients and the caregivers across Colorado, a coalition of medical marijuana attorneys announced today that they will head to court should lawmakers grant final approval to a measure seeking to unconstitutionally restrict patient and caregiver rights.
"While we have embraced reasonable regulation throughout this legislative session, this bill has several provisions that will arbitrarily restrict constitutionally-protected access to medicine," said Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Coalition, the state's leading non-profit voice for patient rights. "While we'd like to avoid litigation, the constitution is on our side, and we are hopeful that courts will once again find in our favor -- as they have done previously on several prior occasions when state officials have attempted to impose similar restrictions."
Joining Vicente in making today's announcement are Hoban & Feola's Bob Hoban and Jessica Corry, Denver attorneys Robert J. Corry, Jr. and Lauren Davis, and Breckenridge attorney Sean McAllister. The Colorado Wellness Association, a trade organization representing caregivers, has also pledged it support. Any litigation will include a commitment to pro-bono legal representation to indigent patients.
While the attorneys take issue with several provisions in House Bill 1284, they consider the following provisions most vulnerable to litigation:
• Limits on caregivers to provide medicine to just five patients or less. • Unconstitutional residency requirements, prohibiting individuals from owning wellness centers if they moved to Colorado after Dec. 15, 2009. • Excessive licensing fees on wellness centers. • Permitting local governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries altogether. • A ban on granting licenses to any individual accused, but not yet convicted, of certain crimes.
On multiple occasions over the last four years, Vicente, Robert Corry, and McAllister successfully prevailed in Denver District Court and before the state Health Board, striking down restrictions mandating that caregivers provide for just five patients or less. In December 2009, Hoban, Davis, and both Corrys prevailed in Arapahoe County District Court on Centennial's efforts to ban medical marijuana dispensaries altogether. In his ruling on the case, Judge Christopher Cross rejected Centennial's arguments, saying they directly violated constitutional principles, including those laid out in Amendment 20. Medical marijuana has been legal under Colorado law since 2000, when a strong majority of voters approved Amendment 20.
Concerning residency restrictions, the attorneys explained their argument as follows:
"The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear throughout our nation's history that discrimination based on state residency will only be permitted in the most limited of circumstances; it can only survive when the state can establish that the discrimination represents the least restrictive means possible and that absent such discrimination, out-of-staters will uniquely cause problems that can be attributed directly to them," said Hoban. "Lawmakers cannot meet this test. This discrimination is especially offensive in a state like Colorado, where so many of us were born elsewhere and where we should be welcoming newcomers instead of turning them away."
The attorneys say they will announce a timeline for the lawsuit, as well as other specifics, if and when the bill passes and their clients are ready to proceed...
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana dispensary owner won't sign license application, calls it 'downright evil.'"