Update below: Last week, Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies co-founder Vincent Palazzotto shared his relief that a health department advisory committee struck draft language that might have outlawed mobile MMJ clinics like one his organization uses.
Now, he hopes HB 1043, a new medical marijuana bill, will allow dispensaries to donate or discount medication for indigent patients.
The bill, on view in its entirety below, notes that "under current law, a medical marijuana center is subject to prohibitions on unfair business practices that may include selling products below cost." Hence, a passage that reads as follows:
A MEDICAL MARIJUANA CENTER MAY SELL BELOW COST OR DONATE MEDICAL MARIJUANA, CLONES, OR MEDICAL MARIJUANA-INFUSED PRODUCTS TO PATIENTS WHO ARE DESIGNATED AS INDIGENT BY THE STATE HEALTH AGENCY.
This tweak is important, in Palazzotto's view, because "right now, there's no bona fide way to get donations into the hands of patients. So we're hopeful that, with the help of Senator Steadman and Representative Massey" -- the legislators co-sponsoring HB 1043 -- "we can get medication to the people who need it most."
Along these lines, Palazzotto would also like medical marijuana patients to be evaluated under the guidelines established by the Colorado Indigent Care Program (CICP).
Why? Our October 2010 post about AIDS patient Damien LaGoy offers some details. LaGoy noted that the state board of health eliminated medical marijuana license fees for indigent patients on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or food stamps, but not for people like himself, who are categorized under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a standard the Colorado Indigent Care Program uses. As such, he was unsure if he'd be able to afford to continue taking medication that he says has radically improved his ability to function on a daily basis.
Because of the SSI vs. SSDI distinction, Palazzotto estimates that "only about 10 percent of our indigent patients would be eligible to receive donations or a sales-tax waiver" should the new medical marijuana bill pass. If, however, the Colorado Indigent Care Program rules that pertain to folks with most other ailments also applied to MMJ patients, more people could be helped.
"We believe there's already an indigence standard for people who seek traditional health care," he says, "and we don't believe a discriminatory line in the sand should be drawn over what type of medication people are choosing to use."
Problem is, legislation may not cure this ill. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the state's department of revenue are the agencies that need convincing -- and Palazzotto hopes he and fellow advocates will be able to do so in the coming months.
"Members of the community are ready to open their hearts," he maintains. "We just have to win over the department of revenue and the department of health to adopting these standards."
Update, 9:44 a.m., January 18: After our publication of this item on January 17, the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies issued a press release detailing its lobbying efforts on behalf of MMJ doctors and outlining its legislative strategy. Read it below:
MMJ Patients Win Big
MMAPR Protects Patients; New Target Set on Capitol
DENVER, COLO. -- Jan. 17, 2011 -- The Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies (MMAPR) was instrumental last week in ensuring that patients continue to have access to doctors that recommend medical cannabis.
The Denver-based group will also advocate for indigent patients as state lawmakers consider a proposal for additional regulations. MMAPR founders and doctors are available to comment on House Bill 1043 before it reaches the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 3, as well as after any actions are taken on the legislation.
MMAPR founder Vincent P. Palazzotto, as well as doctors associated with MMAPR and its mobile doctors unit, testified before the health department's medical marijuana advisory committee last week in support of patients who have a constitutional right to medical cannabis. The health department is considering whether to prohibit doctors specializing in medical cannabis from writing recommendations, as well as whether to require doctors to have a permanent location in order to recommend medical cannabis.
The advisory committee will make recommendations to the health department, though the Board of Health will have the final say.
Testimony from MMAPR founders and doctors convinced the advisory committee that the additional regulations would have restricted access, essentially denying thousands of medical marijuana patients the ability to legally obtain medicine. Because unfortunate social stigmas are still attached to medical cannabis, many doctors are uncomfortable writing the recommendations. MMAPR's mobile doctors, however, travel the state in a converted Airstream recreational vehicle, meeting patients directly in their communities to offer them access to affordable medical cannabis. For indigent and sick patients unable to make long trips, the mobile doctors unit sets up near RTD access points to provide a way for patients to easily access affordable medicine. Patients can either schedule a mobile appointment, or show up at one of several events for care.
Betty Aldworth, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, explained that the work of MMAPR helped to ensure that an estimated 40,000 medical marijuana patients in Colorado continue to have access to medical cannabis.
"What would have happened is that medical cannabis specialists who are currently providing a critical service for patients who don't have access to recommendations through their health care system would have been completely eliminated," said Aldworth.
Of the estimated 22,000 doctors in Colorado, only around 1,100 have felt comfortable writing recommendations, said Aldworth.
Had the health department's medical marijuana advisory committee recommended that the Board of Health prohibit cannabis specialists from making recommendations, thousands of cannabis patients would have immediately had to "scramble" to find doctors willing to evaluate patients for medical cannabis, said MMAPR founder Palazzotto. But MMAPR's work convinced the committee otherwise.
"Thousands of patients would have had to go outside their health care provider in order to receive recommendations, and it would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to maintain this statutory relationship that would have been developed," said Palazzotto. "We're just happy to have made some progress in the fight for access and affordability."
MMAPR has now set its sights on HB 1043, which aims to add additional regulations on the medical marijuana industry. The bill, which has the bipartisan sponsorship of Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, would allow medical marijuana centers to sell cannabis at a reduced cost or donate medical marijuana to indigent patients. MMAPR is available to comment on this positive aspect of the legislation, and will be testifying on the bill come its first Feb. 3rd hearing.
About the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies (MMAPR):
Founded in 2009 by Vincent Palazzotto, MMAPR is the nation's first traditional medicine Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) serving indigent patients across Colorado. The medical marijuana (MMJ) community and patient advocacy groups have recognized it as the only group in Colorado serving the needs of MMJ patients and focusing the debate where it should be -- on the patients themselves. MMAPR's mission is to ensure indigent patients have access to affordable traditional treatments and medicines across the nation. Through their qualified network of providers and caregivers, MMAPR provides low-cost MMJ evaluations, and up to 50 percent off medications and services such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, nutritionists, and naturopathic physicians. MMAPR is strongly supported throughout the MMJ community, bringing a grassroots campaign to the forefront of the medical marijuana/cannabis industry. For more information, visit MMAPR.org.
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Page down to see the latest draft of HB 1043: