Marijuana debate: Should indigent patients wait months before earning state benefits?

Which medical marijuana patients deserve financial assistance -- and how long should they wait for it?

This question arose during debate over House Bill 1284, part of the state's new package of medical marijuana laws. Now, the health department's new medical marijuana advisory group is trying to come up with the answer -- generating heated debate in the process.

The law stipulates that a person determined to be indigent by the state board of health wouldn't have to pay the $90 annual marijuana registry fee or sales tax at dispensaries. And at a meeting last week, the advisory group agreed that patients who qualify for food stamps, Social Security Disability Income, Medicaid assistance or the Colorado Indigent Care Program should be considered indigent by the health department.

The group was divided, however, over how long these patients should have to wait before receiving medical marijuana benefits. Some members, for example, suggested that patients should be certified as indigent six months before they qualify for free aid in order to make sure they aren't gaming the system.

Other members weren't thrilled with that suggestion. "I don't believe there should be a waiting period," says Jill Lamoureux-Leigh, owner of Boulder County Caregivers and the group's dispensary representative. "I don't think the department of health should expend any extra resources to verify indigency when these patient have already qualified for aid through other government agencies. The wait alone to get on Medicaid sometimes takes years. I don't think there are enough patients out there faking indigency that the department of health needs to do this."

After a prolonged discussion, a majority of the board agreed with Lamoureux-Leigh, voting four to three to not recommend a waiting period for indigent patients.

That suggestion, along with a minority opinion recommending a three-month waiting period, will be presented to health department executive director Martha Rudolph, who'll make a final decision -- either choosing one of the two recommendations, or coming up with her own.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner