The Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division is in dire financial straits.
However, Representative Beth McCann of Denver says she has a plan for medical marijuana patients to bail out the MMED using leftover money they paid to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
According to a proposal McCann says she plans to file today or Friday, a large portion of the nearly $10 million in excess funds the CDPHE collected in patient application fees between 2009 and 2011 would be transferred to help fund the struggling MMED. The excess funds were generated by the rush of patients between those years who all paid $90 in application fees. The fee has since been lowered to $35.
In recent weeks, seventeen MMED employees were reassigned as operating funds dried up. MMED officials have blamed a lack of incoming revenue from licensing new centers.
"I became aware...that there was extra money in the medical marijuana fund in the department of public health from payment for the cards," McCann says. "It makes logical sense to me that we should take money from the card fund and move it to the enforcement fund if that money doesn't need to be used by the CDPHE."
McCann's bill would direct $5.7 million to help the MMED immediately, with $2 million set aside as a future emergency fund. She'd also like to put "a few million" (the Colorado Springs Independent reports the figure as $2 million) into substance abuse and prevention programs, but insists this goal isn't meant as a slight to medical marijuana patients .
"I'm not saying medical marijuana users are substance abusers," she stresses. "But there have been concerns that the dispensaries make marijuana more accessible for the young people. So that is going to be in the bill."
But what about patients who haven't ever used a dispensary? Should they have to pay for an agency that has nothing to do with them?
"Well, I think it benefits everyone involved in medical marijuana to have legitimate enforcement efforts to keep the industry in compliance with the law," she replies. "While a patient may have a caregiver or grow their own, it benefits everyone to have a well-regulated industry when you are talking about handling a Schedule 1 drug. My hope is that more state involvement would help alleviate the need for federal involvement."
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A 9News suggests that the MMED cutbacks have left the agency unable to do its job. Representative Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, who is set to co-sponsor the bill, is quoted as saying that he has heard of centers "selling out the back door" to "people who don't actually have medical marijuana registers." Attempts to reach Massey and the MMED Wednesday were unsuccessful.
McCann says she hasn't heard about any specific instances of such illegal sales, but maintains that "industry representatives" and lobbyists have made comments implying such things are going on.
The timeline for the bill is short. McCann hopes it will be introduced by the end of the week so that it can be assigned to a committee and passed before the session ends on May 9.