Yesterday was a long one for attorney Rob Corry, one of the state's highest profile medical marijuana advocates. He briefly attended a rally at the Capitol opposing House Bill 1284, Representative Tom Massey's attempt to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Then he headed inside, where he waited nine hours to speak during a public comments forum before the House judiciary committee.
Corry is troubled by numerous aspects of the proposal -- and by the presence among commenters of lotsa law enforcement officers, including a representative of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
"We're going to be looking into whether those folks were receiving overtime -- whether the taxpayers were paying them to lobby against the taxpayers' interest," he says, adding, "It's unseemly that our attorney general's office and police officers are lobbying the legislature about what the laws are. Law enforcement should enforce the laws. They shouldn't be in the game of trying to shift those laws one way or the other."
While some observers, including Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation's Matt Brown and Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt think demonstrations like the one that preceded the public comments yesterday may be counterproductive, Corry supports them. "We got our views out," he notes. "That's what rallies are for."
In regard to the bill itself, he says, "We're happy the judiciary committee didn't take a vote or consider amendments last night. That's a good thing, because this process needs to slow down. We've been getting a new draft on almost a daily basis, and each time, the bill has been almost completely reworked. That makes it difficult to do a detailed, cogent, line-by-line commentary on something that changes almost every day.
"I'm not accusing anyone of nefarious motives. But we need to slow this process down, because it effects thousands upon thousands of sick and vulnerable people, and their lives depend on it. So I'm happy they're going to take a more deliberate approach."
When Corry finally got his turn to speak, "I told them we don't support the bill in its present form -- that it's way too onerous on patients. It raises the costs of medicine and creates all sorts of unconstitutional intrusions into people's rights."
At the same time, he goes on, "I pledged to support the House judiciary committee as much as they need me to do so. I have years of a knowledge base on this. I'm happy to share my career experience with the legislature. And I'm optimistic. I think we can get this right."
The group that stuck it out long enough to share their views with the committee was diverse -- especially among the medical marijuana community, Corry believes.
"We're far less monolithic in our view than the law enforcement side. It makes me proud that we've built a multifaceted movement, instead of just reading from the same talking points over and over. Some patients take a moderate view. They like the bill, but want to fine tune some things. Other patients are scared of it. They see a big dichotomy between the larger, more established dispensaries and distributors and the more mom-and-pop operations. And I think our industry should have both.
"An imperfect analogy is the beer industry. There, you have large producers like Coors and then microbrewers like our mayor, who was a dispensary owner of sorts. That's how Mayor Hickenlooper got his start -- cultivating a plant, because beer is made from hops and barley, and then refining it for people's consumption."
In contrast, Geoff Blue, speaking for the attorney general, "made the point -- and this is the first time I heard someone from the AG's office say this -- that every dispensary currently operating is illegal. He said straight-up that he doesn't buy the dispensary model and he believes they're all illegal under Colorado law, which echoes the DEA position that they're all illegal under federal law. So you've got hundreds of these openly operating storefronts that apparently the attorney general thinks are in open violation of the law. That's scary.
"Over and over, law enforcement repeated this canard. But the constitution is black and white. It protects the 'acquisition, possession, manufacture, production, use, sale, distribution, dispensing or transportation' of medical marijuana. So if the word 'dispensing' is in the constitutional amendment the voters voted for, how is a dispensary not legal? How can they possibly reach that conclusion?"
Clearly, many people have. As Corry acknowledged, "there was a long line of police officers -- probably at least a dozen, most of them in uniform -- along with drug investigators and alcohol and drug counselors and treatment professionals. Most of them were either government employees or they make their living off people being required to take their classes."
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The opposition of such individuals doesn't seem to have derailed the bill, and Corry says he had a brief but positive meeting with Claire Levy, the chairman of the judiciary committee. "She was worried about this two-tiered bureaucratic system the bill sets up, with a very powerful, very intrusive state-level licensing authority that it complements with local stuff. And I have a problem with that, too. I'd rather have the locals be in charge of local zoning and have the state be a more innocuous, non-discretionary licensing authority, as it is when it issues sales tax licenses to most businesses."
That's not his only concern, of course. "There are probably another twenty action items I want to discuss," Corry says. And while there won't be another opportunity for more public comments until the bill reaches the Senate, he hopes to be able to influence its evolution behind the scenes. In his words, "I think we can get to the point where government is a helper to patients, not a hindrance. But this is a critical tipping point. It can go either way."
And if tips in a direction Corry can't support?
"We have an obvious hammer," he says. "We always have the choice of going across to Denver District Court and taking our chances. There's no guarantee how it will work out, but I'm a lot more familiar with the inside of a court room than I am with the inside of the Capitol."