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Marijuana: House Bill 1358 fails in Senate, THC DUI not dead yet?

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Representative Beth McCann's proposal to shift millions in medical marijuana patient registry fees from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, failed to pass through the Senate today. But the controversy it started regarding the nearly $10 million surplus is far from over.

*Update: The bill was technically laid over until tomorrow, however the session ends tonight. Though it is not likely that it would be called up in special session, there is a small possibility.

The bill would have earmarked about $7.7 million to help finance MMED inspections and licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. An additional two million would have gone to youth violence and drug programs. And another section of the bill would have also moved about $93,000 from the CDPHE to the Department of Public Safety to help fund an existing program that allows law enforcement to access the medical marijuana patient registry.

Earlier this week, we reported that attorney Rob Corry has threatened a lawsuit in relation to the bill, asking for a refund of the nearly $10 million in leftover patient registry information. He points to language in Amendment 20, which legalized medical marijuana use in the state, as being clear about how patient money can be used.

As he told Michael Roberts earlier this week, Corry says he doesn't need HB1358 to pass to file the suit. "There's still a lawsuit, because the CDPHE has over-collected $9 million -- and we know that because of HB 1358. The bill's existence tipped patients off that the CDPHE has been over-collecting, probably for the past eleven years or so. It's something we've always suspected, but we had no evidence of it until this bill was proposed."

Corry went on to say that the MMED has dug itself into a financial hole and deserved its current situation. "The MMED was sold to the community as a self-funding entity.... This is a violation of the promises made at the very beginning about MMED funding itself."

Update* 5/10: Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch got back with us yesterday evening about the failure of the bill to pass and what that means for the MMED: "Obviously we will need to assess where we are and what revenues we have and make decisions going forward based on the revenue that we have available."

Activist Corey Donahue has also filed a complaint with the Denver District Court asking the court to stop HB 1358 from becoming law if it were passed. But like Corry, Donahue has also asked for the surplus patient money to be returned to the patients that overpaid.

In his suit, Donahue quotes language from Colorado's medical marijuana laws that outline how patient registry funds may be used.

"The money is constitutionally mandated to cover the costs of maintaining the registry as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is currently 4 months behind with issuing licensees and diversion of funds will not only cause irreparable injury to me but to every Coloradan who applies to the registry," Donahue says in the document.

The clerk we spoke with at the Denver District Court said Donahue's complaint was "the beginning stages of everything" and she did not know when a decision about its future would be made.

Not everyone in the medical marijuana community was displeased with HB 1358, however. Earier this week, Medical Marijuana Industry Group director Michael Elliott praised the bill in the Denver Post, saying: "It really is the power of the state to make sure people that are a part of this program are doing things the best way."

As for the patient tracking system? That is still a go. But the good news for patients is that without this boost in funds, the concept is stalled. As Colorado Bureau of Investigations Director Ron Sloan told us last week, the program is still in the planning phases and the additional $93,000 would have gone toward fast-tracking the building of the computer system. As it stands, the program will have to wait until next year when the CDPHE has already planned and budgeted $93,000 for it. Sloan said that interested parties would be meeting over the next year to discuss just how the system would work. That should give some time for patient input on the matter.

And finally, though SB 117, which would have set a THC DUI limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, was presumed dead this morning, there are rumors now of it surfacing in some way as part of the special session called by Governor John Hickenlooper earlier today. At a press conference, Hickenlooper said the civil unions bill would definitely be addressed in the special session, but so would other pieces of legislation. Could SB 117 be one of them? Stay tuned.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: 25 dispensaries' closure to protect 'students,' not just children."

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