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Marijuana: Health department wants to limit private caregivers and patient grows

The Colorado Department of Public Health is looking to limit the number of patients that private medical marijuana caregivers can serve, as well as put a cap on the number of plants an individual may grow. Currently, caregivers can serve more than five patients by applying for a "medical necessity" waiver from the CDPHE and plant counts can be increased from just six with a doctor's recommendation, which is often the case with patients who make their own concentrates or edibles.

CDPHE officials say that they'll be asking the legislature to craft new laws clarifying their stance on caregivers and home growers, but before that can happen, the CDPHE will be holding a "Town Hall Meeting" for public comment on the proposed rule changes.

State regulators are calling the current situation a "loophole," and arguing that patient and plant counts have to be reined in to keep people from diverting cannabis to the black market. They are looking for a five-patient, thirty-plant limit -- a move suggested in a failed audit of the CDPHE's medical marijuana division last year.

But activists see this as a power grab by the CDPHE and an outright attack on patient rights that have existed under Amendment 20 for more than ten years. Increased plant counts are needed for some patients, and the decision for how much medical cannabis a person needs should be between the patient and their doctor.

Activist Kathleen Chippi is outraged over the move, and says the CDPHE is blatantly violating the rights of patients by proposing the limits. "It's the caregivers and patients who have the Constitution on their side," Chippi wrote in an e-mail to Westword today. "The patients pick their own caregivers and the CDPHE has no authority to decide who can be a caregiver as long as they meet the constitutional requirement of being eighteen or over. Is it irrational to ask the CDPHE to verify its implementation of the registry is Constitutional/lawful after the F audit BEFORE they proceed further?"

And while she urges patients and caregivers to speak up, Chippi says the public input session likely is just lip service: "Three minutes of public comment at Fridays 'CDPHE Town Hall Meeting' in the Supreme Court chambers addressing one new Board of Heath member, Dr. Volk, is NOT a FAIR stakeholder meeting by any means especially since it appears the second 'caregiver crackdown' bill is already written and to be submitted sometime next week."

Activist Robert Chase also points out that the department is considering redefining just who is an authorized CDPHE employee, which could mean increased access to private medical marijuana records by independent contractors or other state agencies. That could include people who have no need to see medical records, including private companies or the Colorado Integrated Document Solutions.

According to the Colorado Constitution: "No person shall be permitted to gain access to any information about patients in the state health agency's confidential registry, or any information otherwise maintained by the state health agency about physicians and primary care-givers, except for authorized employees of the state health agency in the course of their official duties and authorized employees of state or local law enforcement agencies which have stopped or arrested a person who claims to be engaged in the medical use of marijuana and in possession of a registry identification card."

The CDPHE meeting starts at 1 p.m. tomorrow, March 28, at the State Capitol (200 East Colfax Avenue) in the Old Supreme Court Chambers. Public comments were accepted via e-mail during a very small window of time, but there is also scheduled time for public comment on the meeting agenda. For more information, visit the CDPHE medical marijuana registry site and click on the Town Hall Meeting under "Hot Topics."

According to CDPHE data, there are about 111,000 active medical marijuana patients on the registry. Of that number, roughly 4,900 patients assigned a private caregiver and more than 53,000 have signed up a medical marijuana center to grow cannabis for them. From our Marijuana archives: "Denver Relief executives on partnering with ex-pot regulator Laura Harris"


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