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Medical marijuana advocate praises Denver City Council regulations -- sort of

Most medical marijuana backers are up in arms about the weed rules passed by Denver City Council last night -- including attorney Rob Corry, who says he may form a coalition to sue over the regulations.

But Matt Brown, head of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulations, who was profiled in this space last month, has a much more measured response to the new edicts.

"If we view the rules passed as a starting point and a very clear indication of what the rules will be on March 1, I think they're pretty fair," he says, adding, "I think Denver did a difficult job of getting in front of the issue instead of opting for a moratorium."

Not that Brown, who attended and spoke at the council session, backs every aspect of the Denver plan.

"I think there are still some details that need to be worked out before they go into effect," Brown concedes. "And this issue isn't over. That's part of my message. It's not like the Great Weed Bill of 2010 is done. This will be a continuing process -- but I think they did a very good job of touching on the right things to address."

Among his quibbles: the requirement for a 1,000 foot distance between dispensaries from schools, day-care centers and each other -- a policy that Corry sees as legally vulnerable. Brown's take?

"I felt we would probably see some buffers around schools," he says. "In the industry, we generally don't think it's necessary, so there's a sense that they're almost a punishment -- a restriction to deal with and put up with. After all, you have to be a patient to walk through the door, and the whole argument that it's too close to X, Y or Z is just not borne out by reality." Moreover, "when you include public and private schools and licensed day-care centers, it gets us a little too close to zoning dispensaries out of existence."

Yet, Brown goes on, "I do think we need to be realistic, and even though the 1,000 foot buffer is by no means a standard, it seems pretty livable, especially as a starting point."

He feels much the same about a prohibition against ex-felons holding certain positions in the industry -- another bugaboo for Corry.

"I certainly see Rob's point," Brown says. "But again, I think this is an issue we'll have to watch play out over the next couple of months. My general opinion is, whatever the rules are for qualification, particularly as it applies to background checks, they only apply to top managers or owners with more than 10 percent of the shares in the business. So it's not like no one with any kind of felony record could work there.

"The proposals are a pretty good starting point, but we have to make sure there's an appeals process, understanding that there will be people with whatever prior record or history who are ready to make their case publicly -- to show that they've been rehabilitated and want to be a productive member of society. There shouldn't be a bright-line rule where if you fail, you're out, and there's no process where you can appeal."

Of course, all that's contingent on the state legislature not passing the sort of bill favored by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, which would limit the number of patients per caregiver to five, essentially outlawing dispensaries. That prospect worries Brown.

"If we were to vote tomorrow on what we presume to be the Suthers bill, I don't think there's anything close to the votes needed to pass it right away," he maintains. "That said, this is a very legitimate concern, and the first challenge we have to face at the state level. The ball is in our court to officially and once and for all put down this five-patient-cap idea. We need to roundly reject it as simply not being in the best interest of our patients and then either bring in the most recent draft of Senator Romer's bill or have something else introduced that we can use as a starting point."

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Granted, Senator Chris Romer has now backed away from his own bill -- a move that he blames in part on the intractability of the medical marijuana community. Brown doesn't dismiss this supposition out of hand.

"At this point, we have to decide if we're looking for some form of regulated dispensary model, or will the approach be to shut us down and run us out," he says. "The five-patient model shuts us down and runs us out -- but assuming we can move beyond that fairly quickly, I think everything else is back on the table, including some aspects of the Romer proposal. Now, we as an industry weren't able to put some wind behind Romer's proposal, and we weren't speaking with a solid, cohesive voice. This is one of the repercussions of not being together as an industry a month or two ago."

Brown concedes that some of his peers will never agree to regulation of the sort Romer proposed; he refers to them as "outliers." However, "a bigger challenge will be to find people who really do have an interest in proper regulations and creating an industry consensus that will move us forward and treat us like any other business."

If the Denver City Council rules don't quite fit this definition, Brown sees promise in them as long as "they don't turn into a backhanded way of shutting people down, but are a recognition that it's a very fluid process. We need to continue the dialogue, clarifying things and putting in a best faith effort." If things move forward in this way, he concludes, "I do think we see a very strong set of regulations for Denver."

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