Medical marijuana attorney: If you want to get into the MMJ biz, better act fast

HB 1284, the bill to regulate the medical marijuana industry, may have been signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter earlier this month, but plenty of questions about its implementation remain.

Among them: If you haven't applied for a license by July 1, will you have to wait until July 2011 to do so? No one seems sure, but medical marijuana attorney Danyel Joffe recommends that interested parties assume the answer is "yes."

One key passage in the bill reads:

On July 1, 2010, a person who is operating an established, locally approved business for the purpose of cultivation, manufacture, or sale of medical marijuana or medical marijuana-infused products or a person who has applied to a local government to operate a locally approved business for the purpose of cultivation, manufacture, or sale of medical marijuana or medical marijuana-infused products which is subsequently granted may continue to operate that business in accordance with any applicable state or local laws.

Joffe, currently representing Jason Wimler, who's using a religious defense to fight a marijuana possession charge in Pueblo County, believes many municipalities will view this language as excluding anyone from opening a dispensary or the like between July 2010 and July 2011 unless they've at least started the paperwork process.

For instance, she notes, "Denver is imposing a moratorium as of July 1, 2010. So they won't authorize any new medical marijuana business between July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, because that's their interpretation of the state law -- that there's a statewide moratorium. They believe they can't legally issue any licenses under state law during that period."

This view isn't universally held, Joffe concedes.

"There are a number of attorneys saying, 'There is no statewide moratorium,'" she says. "But whether or not they believe there's a statewide moratorium or not is sort of irrelevant. It's what government agencies think, and what the courts think that counts. And I've heard anecdotally that several other local governments are also issuing moratoriums from July 1 until June 30 of next year, because they also interpret state law this way."

As such, Joffe continues, "I'm telling my clients to act as if there is a moratorium in place. So before July 1, they need to apply to their local government, whether they're in a city or a town or a county" -- if, that is, the municipality doesn't already have a moratorium in place. If they do, the window of opportunity has already slammed shut, at least for now.

Some confusion is understandable, Joffe believes. According to her, "There's a lot of tea-leaf reading, even for the Department of Revenue," which is assembling regulations that will be used to enforce the provisions in HB 1284. "The fact is, Colorado is trying an experiment -- something no one else in the country has ever done. Even California hasn't gone as far as Colorado has. Everybody is inventing this as we go along, and there's no real model to follow."

With that in mind, Joffe says, "Don't sit on your rights." Apply by Wednesday, or possibly lose your chance until this time next year.

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