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Medical marijuana: Petition asks CO Supreme Court to rule state's MMJ laws unconstitutional

Governor Bill Ritter signed Colorado's medical marijuana bills into law this past June -- and ever since then, advocacy organizations such as the Cannabis Therapy Institute have challenged many of the legislation's provisions and the regulations being written for them. Now, such arguments have been formalized via a petition to the Colorado Supreme Court, which is being asked to rule the laws unconstitutional.

The petition -- all 58 pages of it -- and a 240-page appendix filled with supporting arguments from past court rulings are on view below in their entirety.

The man behind these documents is Andrew Reid, an attorney for the firm of Springer and Steinberg. He's arguing on behalf of petitioners led by Kathleen Chippi, once the owner of the One Brown Mouse/Cannabis Healing Arts dispensary. Back in July, Chippi announced that she wouldn't sign Colorado's MMJ license agreement, declaring it to be "downright evil."

Kathleen Chippi.
Kathleen Chippi.

Reid uses considerably more lawyerly language when discussing the legislation -- and he stresses that he decided to take on the cause for reasons other than a belief in the power of cannabis.

"I'm not a marijuana lawyer," he points out, "and my practice isn't focused on medical marijuana law. I'm a constitutional lawyer, and I've approached this in regard to the constitutional issues.

"The case actually has little to do with marijuana or medical marijuana," he continues. "It's an issue of patient's access to a medication that's been recommended by his or her doctor -- a right to medication that was enshrined by the will of the people in the Colorado constitution. It's our position that the legislation, and now the regulations -- although the regulations aren't mentioned in the petition -- undermine the will of the people."

The first category of complaints outlined in the petition deal with patient access to medication.

According to Reid, "The access issues arise not only in the restrictions on the definition of caregiver in the legislation, which is contrary to that which is in the constitution, as is the description of physicians in good standing to recommend medical marijuana. Probably of greatest importance at this time are the provisions that authorize local communities to ban medical marijuana businesses, which frustrate access to medicine. Many of these patients can't travel -- they can't even get out of bed. That's why they need caregivers, who must transport medicine to patients. And if access to medicine is restricted in some parts of the state, the constitutional rights of many patients are being undermined.

"The legislation sets up medical marijuana businesses -- essentially medical marijuana pharmacies and the production of medication. And while they're not mentioned specifically in the constitution, the constitution mentions sales, distribution and the manufacture of medicine -- so that implies there's a constitutional protection there. And a patient's right to access their medication through dispensaries and manufacturers is covered in the petition."

Medical marijuana: Petition asks CO Supreme Court to rule state's MMJ laws unconstitutional

The petition's second prong deals with "patient privacy," Reid explains. He believes the state's MMJ legislation violates this right "by injecting the Department of Revenue and its provisions on privacy on the disclosure of a patient's medical records. This essentially treats medical marijuana patients as criminal suspects. And patients who've had medication recommended by doctors, regardless of whether that medication is medical marijuana or prescriptive narcotics, are not criminal suspects, and they shouldn't be treated that way. The only agency that should have any access to these records under the constitution is the state's Department of Health. By injecting the Department of Revenue and law enforcement undermines a patient's constitutionally protected rights to privacy."

As Reid concedes, "the Supreme Court has total discretion about whether or not to hear this case, and relatively few petitions of this nature are accepted by Supreme Courts in this state or any state." But he's hopeful that Colorado's top jurists will accept original jurisdiction -- meaning that they'll consider the subjects raised in the petition without waiting for lower courts to tackle them first.

"It's an unusual procedure," Reid says, "but it's one that's used in constitutional questions of sufficient urgency. And the urgency is obviously the impact the legislation is having on over 100,000 medical marijuana patients in the State of Colorado."

Not all of these patients suffer from life-threatening conditions, but plenty of them do, Reid allows: "Some cancer patients or AIDS patients who have difficulty eating could literally starve to death if they can't get their medical marijuana to deal with the nausea they're suffering."

Page down to read the documents.

Petition to challenge Colorado's medical marijuana laws:

Appendix to the petition challenging Colorado's medical marijuana laws:

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana lawsuit against Westminster could challenge all local dispensary bans."