Brian Vicente on law enforcement's medical marijuana "desperation"

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An attempt to kill HB 1284, the medical marijuana regulatory bill, fell short yesterday -- and that's fine by Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, a prominent MMJ advocate.

"I think we're seeing desperation on the side of law enforcement," he says, "and I also think they can't see the forest for the trees. They're so sued to being in the prohibitionist mindset that they can't possibly fathom regulating marijuana."

According to Vicente, who spent Monday at the Capitol, "you had a coalition of law enforcement bringing a resolution for a referendum that would have explicitly destroyed dispensaries. It would have said they were illegal under state law and would have heaped all kinds of really onerous requirements on caregivers that aren't currently in the constitution.

"They wanted to put it before the voters in November, which would have been a waste of time, because I think the voters would have soundly rejected it. But it was a very clear attempt by them to destroy the safe-access model."

In Vicente's view, this approach, had it passed, would have been extremely counterproductive.

"They were really arguing against their own interests," he maintains. "Instead of having a certain number of MMJ centers in every community that they can oversee and that are regulated, they tried to disperse them into tens of thousands of small neighborhood grows across the state that they couldn't regulate. So there was a piece of logic missing from their argument. But I think they're just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks."

In the meantime, Senator Chris Romer, who's in favor of regulation, albeit of a sometimes controversial sort, has been causing confusion by proposing loads of new amendments -- including a proposal that 21-year olds be banned from dispensaries.

Keeping track of these shifts is a fulltime job for Vicente. Take the suggestion that MMJ regulations be put in place by July 1 rather than July of 2011, as the bill stated earlier.

"The timeline is a concern mainly because I think it's geared at shutting down a large number of dispensaries," Vicente says. "And that really shuts down patient access and an opportunity to get medicine. But it's really been a roller coaster trying to follow where the sponsors are trying to go with this. I got an e-mail this morning that said now they're looking at an application deadline of August 1, and September 1 would be when dispensaries would have to certify that they are in compliance with the 70-30 integration model," which requires dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their own product.

As Vicente sees it, this last alteration "is somewhat more reasonable, but I still think it's going to make it difficult for businesses to comply. As [fellow MMJ advocate] Matt Brown has said, that's like requiring Whole Foods to produce 70 percent of their own vegetables by September 1. I think that's unrealistic and will benefit the big operators, and make things more difficult for the mom-and-pop businesses."

Right now, it looks as if the bill could reach the senate floor as early as tomorrow, with Vicente hinting that "we may have our bill in its final shape by tomorrow afternoon." If things work out that way, there'll be incredible pressure to make fixes in just a few hours.

What does he think will cause the biggest fights?

"We're still pushing to protect some of the constitutional provisions, like allowing caregivers to take care of more than five people if that's appropriate for their situation, and perhaps addressing the one-year moratorium on new businesses in there. Our dream is to get growers licensed in some way, but that may be difficult. And we'd also like to address some of the issues about banning people with prior criminal records from becoming licensees of centers. I think some of that is just overly punishment-oriented and not focused on what's best for patients and the industry."

If something actually passes, Vicente is confident law-enforcement types will despise it. In his words, "the very thought of that makes them cringe."

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