This week, the department of health's medical marijuana advisory committee struck draft language that would have doomed mobile MMJ clinics -- but it left intact limits against doctors with conditions or restrictions on their licenses.
However, HB 1043, a new bill on view below, could change the game again.
The regulations governing MMJ recommendations have been shifting of late.
Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado, defines a physician allowed to recommend medical marijuana as "a doctor of medicine who maintains, in good standing, a license to practice medicine issued by the state of Colorado." But Senate Bill 109, which set out to clarify the relationship between doctors and MMJ patients, altered this language, declaring that only a physician with a "valid, unrestricted license to practice medicine in Colorado" would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana. Because many of the most prolific MMJ docs had conditions or restrictions on their licenses, the health department quietly tweaked its own rules and rejected all patients they'd recommended -- around 2,000 of them.
Complaints over this sweeping move prompted the health department to temporarily reinstate 1,300 of those patients -- the ones whose doctors had conditions on their licenses. Patients recommended by doctors with restrictions on their licenses were out of luck.
In an interview yesterday, Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies co-founder Vincent Palazzotto said he felt committee members supported a redefinition of the rules concerning license conditions or restrictions. However, language banning doctors with such marks on their record from recommending MMJ remains intact -- and that concerns Betty Aldworth, executive director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation.
"We still have 1,300 patients with big question marks over their application," she says.
Aldworth and CMMR did all they could to persuade the advisory committee, helping to assemble what she describes as a "loose-knit coalition of physicians and advocacy organizations that worked on providing some policy recommendations and positions on the rules as they were proposed -- and six people provided testimony as to why the rules as proposed were problematic."
Nonetheless, the committee was unmoved, and while Aldworth holds out hope that the health department could still make changes at a March meeting where final rules are expected to be adopted, she points to another option: House Bill 1043, co-sponsored by Senator Pat Steadman and Representative Tom Massey, whose name is also on HB 1284, the medical marijuana measure singed into law by Governor Bill Ritter this past June.
Here's a key passage in 1043 as currently constituted:
The physician shall have a valid
unrestrictedColorado license to practice medicine, which license is in good standing AND DOES NOT CONTAIN A RESTRICTION THAT COULD LIMIT THE PHYSICIAN'S ABILITY TO MAKE A MEDICAL MARIJUANA RECOMMENDATION. IF THE PHYSICIAN HAS A RESTRICTED LICENSE AND THE RESTRICTIONS DO NOT SPECIFY WHETHER THE PHYSICIAN MAY OR MAY NOT MAKE MEDICAL MARIJUANA RECOMMENDATIONS, THE PHYSICIAN MAY APPEAL TO THE COLORADO MEDICAL BOARD FOR CLARIFICATION OF WHETHER THE RESTRICTION PROHIBITS THE PHYSICIAN FROM MAKING MEDICAL MARIJUANA RECOMMENDATIONS. THE APPEAL SHALL BE MADE IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 12-36-118 (19), C.R.S.
Aldworth's interpretation? "The bill eliminates the restrictions and conditions qualifier, so that in the future, when the board imposes a condition or restriction on a physician's license, they are to indicate whether or not that restriction or condition impacts medical marijuana recommendations. And it also creates a system for clarification and appeal for physicians."
That's important, in Aldworth's view, because all conditions and restrictions are not created equal. For instance, a surgeon no longer allowed to operate because he has developed a tremor would have a condition or restriction on his license, but his ailment wouldn't seem to impact his ability to recommend medical marijuana.
Of course, there's no guarantee that this language will survive the legislative process.
"If 1043 goes through, it might not go through as is," Aldworth concedes. "Last year, there were hundreds of amendments to 1284, and we might see the same thing this time -- and that piece might be changed before we get to a final vote."
CMMR forces are already strategizing about this aspect of 1043, with a meeting for physicians scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 18, near downtown; doctors interested in attending will receive the address after RSVPing at this page.
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Page down to read the current draft of HB 1043:
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Colorado Supreme Court rejects petition challenging MMJ laws."