Medical marijuana: Senator Pat Steadman talks about pot credit unions, patient resource center

Senator Pat Steadman has been floating the idea of starting up a sort of medical marijuana center credit union for a few months now, ever since the two remaining local banks to do business with pot shops -- Colorado Springs State Bank and the Bank of Denver -- had an abrupt change in policy.

But the plans seem to change by the minute, and even Steadman admits it's been a struggle to get things off the ground.

"The credit union bill that is not really a credit union bill? Well, it's been on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again," he says with a laugh. "But at this point, it's on again. In all likelihood, this isn't going to work or really solve the problem, but I still think it is worth doing from the 'it makes a statement' point-of-view."

As he sees it, the bill would "enable legislation" that would allow a person or group to form a cannabis credit union. It wouldn't create a state-run financial institution, as some had previously thought.

"Someone would still have to come in and try to do it. And given the problems we've seen, I don't know that anyone would take us up on that offer. But I'm willing to bang my head on the wall to make the point."

Steadman also gave us a little more insight on a proposal Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA) founder Vincent Palazzotto mentioned to us a few weeks ago that would filter some of the current patient fee surplus into a patient outreach program.

Currently, there is about $8 million in surplus fee money collected over the last few years as the MMJ registry saw a surge in patients. State law mandates that the money should go to "any direct or indirect administrative costs associated with its role in this program." Steadman says he interprets it to be open ended and that the legislature could act to expand the CDPHE's role in regard to medical marijuana patients -- and he told CDPHE board members as much at a recent joint budget committee meeting.

"They didn't want to bite or say anything creative or innovative. They seem to want to be narrow bureaucrats that keep track of paper. But they have this pot of money that hopefully the legislature is going to act under restraint and not use it for budget balance purposes. We think it should benefit patients.

"Every time someone has gone to the board of health to expand conditions, they say there is not enough evidence. It's because we don't have the studies. I think this should fund research in some way, but how that is done and who decides what we would spend the money on needs some fleshing out."

At this point, Steadman says there's no firm proposal, only the very early stages of discussion. He doesn't expect to see anything materialize this coming legislative session, but he hopes that by 2013, officials can put a plan together.

If a program is created, he adds, it needs to include a way to sustain itself. The surplus money created by the surge in patients over the last few years won't be built up again because of the recent vote to drop the registration price from $90 to $35 starting January 1.

"I think just starting to noodle around with this issue and concept is the right thing, but we shouldn't rush into it," he notes. "At the end of the day, it is patient money."

More from our Marijuana archives: "4/20 at CU Boulder: Student legislative council votes unanimously to move event off-campus" and "Medical marijuana: 14 percent of MMJ patient applications being held up by CDPHE."

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