Marijuana lawyers rallying for court battles in wake of HB 1284

A ten-lawyer panel oiled the big guns Monday for its coming fight against sweeping marijuana legislation set to be signed by Governor Bill Ritter, urging an overflow crowd of medical pot entrepreneurs to remain vigilant as the state mounts an overhaul of the industry.

Calling HB 1284 and SB 109 "monstrosities," among other things, members of the panel (hosted by the Cannabis Therapy Institute) spoke fervently of its opposition to the laws, which they say are riddled with unconstitutional provisions.

Among the most targeted provisions are residency requirements for dispensary owners and the edict that dispensaries also manage their own grow operations, of which 70 percent of the stock be tied directly to its patients.

With ninety pages of new laws, which are expected to put a good number of existing operations out of business, the lawyers who have streamlined the industry are now at the front lines of the marijuana fight. And based on last night's performance at Loews Denver Hotel, they're pulling no punches.

In an unusual pledge to take on the issue collectively, "without the egos," the group -- which included big names like attorneys Jessica Corry and Lauren Davis -- vowed to attack the legislation head on.

"This bill is just crazy," said Clifton Black a Colorado Springs marijuana attorney and member of the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force. But he conceded that attorneys are in holding pattern as the state seeks to mandate "forms that have not been created to be given to an agency that doesn't exist yet."

Because the consequences of the legislation, which will be executed under the purview of the Department of Revenue, remain to be ironed out, the best thing pot dispensaries and caregivers can do is rush to meet the new requirements, he said.

But that still might not be enough, especially for business owners with criminal histories, which the new laws ban, or specifically those with prior cultivation convictions -- "the people who are the best caregivers," said attorney Lauren Davis.

"Someone who possessed a tiny amount of cocaine twenty years ago should not be banned from providing care," she argued.

Either way, the lawyers promise lawsuits will be coming from every direction -- for alleged violations pertaining to zoning, First Amendment issues and more. Many of them will be joint suits or maybe even class action suits, the panelists predicted.

The panel was moderated by Laura Kriho, director of the Cannabis Therapy Institute.

An eighteen-year veteran of the fight to legalize medical marijuana, she says the group of lawyers must work in tandem if they're to take on Colorado's schizophrenic marijuana laws -- just as the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers was instrumental in repealing alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. "Emphasis on the voluntary," she noted.

"People are outraged," said Boulder marijuana attorney Craig Small. "But emotional outrage is only going to get you so far." Dispensary owners need to work to comply with the changes and gather evidence that the laws unfairly seek to put otherwise successful owners out of business. Then, he says, the industry will "wallop them over the head with a hammer.

"They just really screwed the pooch when it comes to patient rights," he went on, echoing statements from fellow panelists that much of the restrictive law, which includes last-minute amendments added toward the end of the legislative session, was drafted to protect the interests of the largest dispensaries, whose representatives rigorously lobbied legislators.

"They just want to shut it down with an iron fist," he said.

For all its supposed flaws, the new legislation appears to have at least accomplished one thing: It's pissed off all the right people (or wrong people, depending on whom you're talking to).

"I say we bring it fast, we bring it hard, we bring it right away," said Corry to applause. "I say we bring it to the federal court... I say we bring it to the state court... I say we bring it to the local court.

"I'm angry," she continued. "And I think we should all be angry, because we got hoodwinked," referring to promises from state Senator Chris Romer that the regulations, which many welcomed as a further legitimization of the industry, would be relatively mild to prevent potential lawsuits.

The lawyers agreed that the "law enforcement legislative action" was nothing like what was promised.

"Well, Senator Romer, you were right," Corry said. "You're about to get sued."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane