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Medical marijuana: New exemption to 35 day rule means patients don't have to wait for pot

Update below: Until last fall, medical marijuana centers could sell cannabis to patients as soon as they submitted licensing paperwork. Then, the Department of Revenue began enforcing what became known as the 35-day rule, named for the time application processing was supposed to take (although it often went longer). Now, however, a new exemption to the regulation has quietly been enacted.

According to Colorado Dispensary Services' Jake Browne, who's written a blog post about the topic on the CDS website, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announcement of this rule-change came in an unusual form: a voicemail message.

The result? First-time applicants may purchase medicine the same day they send their completed application by certified mail, Browne notes. At CDS, that means bringing photocopies of a physician recommendation, the completed application, current ID and the certified mail receipt. The center is charged with confirming that the physician is in good standing, with no restrictions or conditions on his license -- and once that's done, the patient should be good to go.

Now, Browne's trying to get the word out. "Very few physicians and dispensaries are aware of this policy change," he writes via e-mail, "so few patients understand their right to purchase medicine the same day."

The reason for the rule tweak had to do with "helping those who were struggling with end-of-life issues, going through aggressive cancer treatments, and so forth," he goes on. "There are hospice patients who need access to medicine that simply don't have 35 days. Creating an exemption from the mandated waiting period allows them to pass with dignity." However, the alteration "applies to anyone who is a new applicant to the registry."

Browne was among the most vocal objectors to the 35-day rule when it went into effect in late September-early October of 2010. And while the license-application delay isn't nearly as onerous as it once was, he believes the lag-time is growing again.

"A few months ago, you could count on receiving your card in roughly two weeks," he points out. "That's started to creep back up to a month."

Moreover, "The CDPHE issued tens of thousands of cards around this time last year, which means a lot of patients are renewing at the same time. We don't want to read about more patients like Elaine Betts," whose medical marijuana card arrived two weeks after her death.

Update, 2:43 p.m. September 29: Just heard from Sensible Colorado's Josh Kappel, and he shares some technicalities about what's required of medical marijuana centers and patients as applied to the new rule change.

"This is how it works," he says. "If a person applies for a medical marijuana card and it's the first time they've ever applied, they can take that application and the doctor's recommendation and the certificate of mailing [plus a current ID] to any medical marijuana center -- but only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Then, the medical marijuana center has to call the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment line and verify that the patient's application hasn't been denied. Then, and only then, can they sell to that patient."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: DEA could raid any day, but we go to work anyway, says dispensary staffer."