Everyone has questions about the new medical marijuana laws.
And one of the best people to answer them is Jill Lamoureux-Leigh, one of the most successful and respected people in the MMJ community.
Lamoureux-Leigh quit her job working for the Northwest Parkway Public Highway Authority to work in Boulder County Caregivers in June 2008. Then Boulder's first dispensary, the operation has grown to three locations, with a fourth on the way. She recently heard she'll be serving on medical marijuana advisory committees for both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Revenue -- and she's hosting a free MMJ discussion series that launches at 6 p.m. on July 20 at the Colorado Patient Care Center, 2995 Baseline Road, Suite 110, in Boulder.
Here are the top questions Lamoureux-Leigh has heard about new MMJ rules, as well as her answers:
How will patients now receive referrals from doctors?
The amount of doctors wiling to give referrals may reduce. There has to be physical exam now, there has to be an opportunity for follow-up visits. The biggest change is for patients with chronic pain. The doctors have to list the cause the pain, what condition it's related to. A big thing is if a patient is looking for referral that exceeds the normal six-plant/two-ounce recommendation, they waive their confidentially rights, as far as their medical records go. The Department of Health reviews their recommendation now.
Because of all this, the cost of referrals may start to increase as the doctors are required to do more record keeping and protect themselves as far as records go.
Will the new laws restrict patient access to medicine?
In general, access to medicine will not be restricted, but the number of centers that can comply with the new mandate will probably be less than currently exist. As a result of the huge application fees and the unknown amount of licensing fees, the cost of medicine may increase as well.
Because caregivers can now only service five people, if a patient was using a caregiver rather than a dispensary, they may at some point when the Department of Heath starts enforcing the five-patient limit actually see their caregiver dump them. The question is, when and how would that happen.
From my last conversation with regulators, it seems that patients may visit any center they'd like to. However, only the center that's designated their primary caregiver can carry their plant and weight count. In some cases, access to medicine may increase. Something that used to be unclear has been clarified: A patient may now grow their own medicine and utilize a caregiver or a center.
How does the new legislation affect home caregivers?
They are now limited to five patients, so home caregivers who are trying to grow a sizable amount are going to be seeking patients who have what we've been calling edibles cards, which means they are allowed more than the six-plant/two-ounce allowances. When the department of health will be issuing those cards, I am not sure.
Caregivers used to be able to buy wholesale from dispensaries. Now because marijuana can only be retailed at a center, a caregiver can't have retail sales tax license, so they will have to buy retail at the centers and pay sales tax on it -- and they can't pass that sales tax on to patients. However, the caregiver can charge for his or her services. If they are doing that, it needs to be properly licensed in their jurisdiction as a home-based business and reported to the IRS as a home-based income and the Colorado Department of Revenue as a service income.
Also, centers cannot deliver to patients any longer, unless that patient has a special waiver from the Department of Health. There will be a new market for home caregivers to deliver to patients, since they are still allowed to deliver.
How hard will it be for centers to meet regulation deadlines?
We've had several deadlines so far. The first was July 1, and that was to be locally approved. That caused a land rush to find space. The biggest problem there was identical licensing. If a center was looking to merge with an independent grower, both facilities had to have identical sales tax licensing -- and if they were located where a local moratorium was in place and they were grandfathered in, they couldn't change their sales tax license.
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The second deadline is the August 1 Department of Revenue application deadline. The challenge there is coming up with the funds to apply. And then, centers have to ramp up to prove by September 1 that they are producing 70 percent of their medicine. We haven't seen the form yet, but essentially it will be an affidavit to the Department of Revenue certifying by law under OSHA that you are in compliance.
The question from many dispensaries is, "How will they ever know if I'm producing 70 percent of my medicine? Can't I just certify I anyway?" The answer is yes, you can, but if they find out, you will not be licensed in the future. I don't think someone is going to come around to check, but I am not sure yet. There are other ways they could investigate that, such as they could check the electricity bills for addresses listed as grow facilities.
I understand people who can't get licensed but still want to operate as long as they can to try to recoup as much of their investment as possible. But is it worth the risk? In the slim chance that you do get caught, you may never get a license, and you may even face jail time. Will they actually go to that extreme? This is the first time any of us have ever done this, and I think it is wise not to assume anything at this point.