Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee gets rolling minus shadowy patient rep Ken Weaver

The most notable part of the first meeting of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's new Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, held this morning, wasn't what occurred, but what was missing: Staffers announced that Ken Weaver, the committee's designated patient advocate, had stepped down. Yesterday, Westword reported on Weaver's shadowy past life and how he may have falsified part of his committee application.

While Weaver has refused to respond to Westword's questions on the matter, here's the letter he sent to CDPHE yesterday:

To Whom It May Concern:

I respectfully resign my position on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee.

As a cancer survivor and a former cancer patient, I do not want to distract from critical patient needs and the critical work of this committee moving forward. Implementing responsible medical care for Coloradoans must come first, and I am concerned that any potential controversy created around my appointment to this position would interfere with the mission and purpose of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee.

I appreciate the importance of this advisory group that was so generously put together by CDPHE to handle the complex regulation necessary to the implementation of SB 109 and HB 1284. I have every confidence that these two laws will make a real difference when it comes to addressing the needs of cancer patients and other Coloradoans suffering from chronic pain and illness.


Ken Weaver

The health department, it turns out, has already lined up Weaver's replacement. Staffers at the meeting announced the new appointment will be Joey Gutierrez, a Pueblo firefighter. So far, there are no obvious skeletons in Gutierrez's closet.

While Gutierrez wasn't in attendance today, the other advisory committee members got down to business. After all, they have just a few short months to come up with new rule recommendations for, among other things, indigent patients (who won't be charged registry application fees), caregiver responsibilities (one of the most controversial medical marijuana issues) and the process for adding new medical conditions marijuana can be recommended for.

Appending new medical conditions to the list of MMJ-approved ailments may seem like a basic concept, and attempts have been made to add PTSD and autism to the list. But in reality, the process is anything but easy, as evidenced by the fact that this subject was the first the committee decided to tackle.

Chief Medical Officer Ned Calonge, speaking on behalf of CDPHE, put forward a draft regulation that would require any new medical condition feature proof from peer-reviewed and published reports from randomized controlled trials showing that marijuana could help alleviate the condition. But as several committee members pointed out, such trials are few and far between in the United States owing to the fact that marijuana is still a Schedule I narcotic under federal laws.

As member and chronic pain expert Daniel Bennett put it, "It's impossible for states to do such trials without a Fort Knox."

It also doesn't help how politicizing the issue has become, said Jefferson County Public Health Department executive director Mark Johnson: "We are trying to make a science of a social and political entity, and we can never do it."

Still, adding new medical conditions does seem to be possible. Calonge noted that the health department will consider adding Tourette syndrome to the list of applicable conditions this fall based on German research on the matter.

Next up for the brand-new advisory committee? Defining what it means to be a medical marijuana caregiver. In other words, Gutierrez and his colleagues will have their work cut out for them.

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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