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Medical marijuana: Tom Massey says HB 1043, new MMJ bill, should help law enforcement

HB 1043, a new medical marijuana bill, combines legislative cleanup efforts by Senator Pat Steadman and Representative Tom Massey, co-sponsor of the MMJ measure that became law in June. Steadman admits that he doesn't agree with everything in the bill at this point, and neither does Massey, whose proposals include efforts to help law enforcement.

Like Steadman, Massey sees the new bill as a refinement of the aforementioned measure, SB 1284. "It's based on some things we needed to do through the Department of Revenue, things about enforcement and things on the other side of the equation. And rather than having a bunch of disparate bills, where we might lose control of the process, we felt we should deal with everything in one omnibus -- do everything in one fell swoop, which I think we've done pretty comprehensively."

Not that he's displeased with SB 1284, which he believes has "made everybody a little bit happy but not everybody completely happy, which means we're doing something right." In his view, "Advocates and providers now feel they have a clear set of regulations they can live under and stay under compliance and have some state protection from federal mandates, and law enforcement has a template and a structure they can follow."

At the same time, Massey continues, "I felt like we somewhat abandoned law enforcement" in the final version of the legislation. "They wanted to go to one extreme last year, and we kind of got away from that -- so I wanted to address some of their concerns."

An example: the ability to access registration information.

"We're trying to protect the confidentiality that is provided under the constitution to a caregiver in regard to patients," he stresses. "Patient information is absolutely protected. But for law enforcement, if they pull someone over with a trunk full of marijuana and the guy or gal claims to be a caregiver, law enforcement doesn't have a way to verify or corroborate that. So under this, we're creating somewhat of a registration environment, where law enforcement -- and law enforcement only -- can access a database. So if they pull over John Doe, and John Doe claims to be a caregiver, they can look it up and see, 'You are a caregiver, so you have a legal right to have this in your possession.'"

Such efforts are likely to send up red flags for advocates like the folks at the Cannabis Therapy Institute. This week, CTI submitted an emergency petition to the board of health due in part to concerns about access to patient information; the board rejected the petition, although the topics raised in it will be discussed at a future meeting.

Other Massey proposals? He wants to "create a venue where we can have testing facilities and labs and also encourage that those be utilized for research and development and product testing. Since we can't get data from the federal government on this, we need to be proactive in this state -- and Colorado is on the cutting edge of this industry. And how do we know what's an appropriate dose for individual patients? We're more or less doing this by trial and error, and we could use some real research. We could be pioneers in Colorado, and if this is really here to stay, we need to address the research and development piece."

In addition, Massey notes, "we want to have a clear and verifiable audit trail for the sale of medical marijuana -- and we found that a number of these centers were having trouble creating banking relationships. We need to address that with the state banking commissioner and tweak some federal banking regulations. It may be somewhat one-sided -- more of a depository than a traditional banking relationship, where you might lend money based on inventory. I don't see them wanting to collateralize a product that's still federally illegal. But we need a depository relationship that would make reporting a little easier."

Massey also feels "some of our staffing requirements for centers were, I think, a little onerous" -- and he hopes some adjustments can be made in this respect. But he's against removing the provision that allows communities or municipalities to ban dispensaries either through action by local representatives or a vote of the people.

"The argument against this originally was that if we precluded centers, we would probably be limiting access to something from a constitutional standpoint," he says. "But after the proliferation of ballot measures this last year, centers are still geographically diversified across the state, and there's still the ability of a caregiver network to provide medication. Caregivers can even get waivers if patients can't find someone in their immediate area to exceed the five-patient limit. So I don't feel we've limited access in any way, shape or form. I feel like we've gotten past that."

Still, he admits that 1043 can't possibly deal with every aspect of the industry.

"This is such a new field of endeavor for all of us," he says. "We're actually starting up and regulating an industry that's gone beyond our wildest dreams. When we passed the original amendment in 2000, we had no idea we'd be up to 120,000 registered patients, which is where we're at and counting. I really feel the regulatory framework we put in place was necessary, and we'll continue to tweak it as time goes on."

Page down to read the current draft of HB 1043.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Colorado Supreme Court rejects petition challenging MMJ laws."