Medical marijuana advisory committee shuts down, health dept. rejects caregiver definition

In February, a meeting of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's medical marijuana advisory committee resulted in a definition of caregivers that cheered committee member Jill Lamoureux, who called it "movement forward for patient and caregiver rights." Now, however, the committee has been shelved and its caregivers definition chucked at the advice of the Colorado Attorney General's Office.

According to the CDPHE's website, the committee completed its mission in early March, following its review and recommendations concerning patient rules; it can be reconvened on an as-needed basis. Afterward, its work was handed over to the AG's office, which determined that the caregivers rules were out of compliance with, among other things, the 2009 Colorado Court of Appeals opinion in the matter of Stacy Clendenin , a Longmont caregiver who was found guilty of marijuana possession and cultivation even though she was growing for patients.

In the Clendenin case, the Court of Appeals held that a caregiver's services must go beyond supplying MMJ -- and afterward, Suthers released a statement applauding the decision. He wrote: "I am pleased to see the Court of Appeals' has provided legal support for our case that a caregiver, under Amendment 20, must do more than simply provide marijuana to a patient. I also was pleased to see the assertion in the special concurrence that Amendment 20 'cries out for legislative action.' I could not agree more. I hope the legislature will act and create a regulatory framework that gives substance to the Court of Appeals' findings."

Given such views, it makes sense that Suthers wasn't thrilled with the committee's caregiver definition, which read:

Significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient" means assisting a patient with daily activities, including but not limited to transportation or housekeeping or meal preparation or shopping or making any necessary arrangement for access to medical care or services or provision of medical marijuana.

Here's his office's suggested rewrite:

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Significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient" means, IN ADDITION TO THE ABILITY TO PROVIDE MEDICAL MARIJUANA, REGULARLY assisting a patient with ACTIVITIES OF daily activities LIVING, including but not limited to transportation or housekeeping or meal preparation or shopping or making any necessary arrangement for access to medical care or NON-MEDICAL MARIJUANA services or provision of medical marijuana. THE ACT OF SUPPLYING MEDICAL MARIJUANA OR MARIJUANA PARAPHERNALIA, BY ITSELF, IS INSUFFICIENT TO CONSTITUTE "SIGNIFICANT RESPONSIBILITY FOR MANAGING THE WELL-BEING OF A PATIENT.

The public has been invited to comment on this proposed change, but because the lingo has received virtually no publicity, most people haven't heard anything about it. And guess when the comment period ends? According to Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente, a well-known medical marijuana advocate, 5 p.m. today, April 20.

It is simply coincidental that this deadline was set on 4/20, when those who would seem most apt to complain may be distracted by the year's largest marijuana-oriented event?

Vicente calls the timing "somewhat suspicious. Certainly, the health department has a long history of resorting to any tactic possible to prevent the public from commenting and observing their activities. They've held public hearings with twelve-hours notice and on election day. And now they've said comments will end on 4/20" -- a time that "smells funny," in his opinion.

Regarding the rejection of the advisory committee's caregiver language, Vicente admits that "we were pretty surprised. The advisory committee was comprised of law enforcement and treatment specialists, and in many ways, it seemed to be stacked against patient and caregiver rights. So when they came out with what we thought was a pretty common-sense definition of caregiver, which allowed them to provide medical marijuana to patients and have that be sufficient, we were pleased. And then to have that rejected by the CDPHE -- it was pretty shocking."

He concedes that the committee's recommendation "wasn't binding, but I think all of its other recommendations were adopted by the CDPHE. And one that actually expanded and protected patients rights was rejected."

As for the AG office's opinion, Vicente says "they didn't provide any legal backing for their argument nor publicize their memo. And we feel it's simply political posturing on their part to push their anti-medical marijuana agenda -- the same agenda they've been pushing for ten years."

With that in mind, Vicente encourages people to share their views with the CDPHE by e-mailing the department at cdphe.MMRAdvisoryCommittee@state.co.us prior to 5 p.m. today. He also urges folks to share their views at a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing of the Board of Health, at which the rule can be formally adopted; it's likely to take place in May.

Until then, Vicente says, "I'd like to stress that the new language is bad for patients. They should have the choice of which caregiver to work with, and some patients do not need supplementary services like housekeeping and so forth. Many patients just want to get medicine from their caregiver, and they should be allowed to do so. I feel like the system has worked for the past eleven years, and there's no compelling need for them to make it more restrictive now."

More from our Marijuana archive: "THC blood test: Pot critic William Breathes nearly 3 times over proposed limit when sober."

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