It's been another wild legislative session for the medical marijuana industry. Beyond the controversy over THC driving limits, officials have wrestled with regulatory tweaks and the prospect of federal interference in the Colorado system. Nonetheless, Jessica Corry, a medical marijuana attorney and advocate, sees plenty of positives.
With the legislature slated to close up shop for the season no later than midnight tomorrow, we asked Corry via e-mail to weigh in on HB 1043, a measure designed to "clean up" aspects of MMJ regulations signed into law last year; the workability of the 70-30 rule, which requires dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their own product (and acquire no more than 30 percent from other sources); U.S. Attorney John Walsh's letter criticizing some aspects of the bill; local retail bans; and more. The result is the following state-of-the-industry Q&A.
Westword: Has the U.S. Attorney's letter about HB 1043 caused dispensary owners and growers to balk at expansion?
Jessica Corry: The latest version of the legislature's "clean up" bill has removed a provision that sought to extend the statewide moratorium on new businesses for another year. The session wraps Wednesday, so we'll know for sure by then. If last year's medical marijuana legislative debate offers any insight, we could see many last minute changes, which could include adding the moratorium extension back into the final version.
MMED representatives are now saying it could be several months until all state applications are approved or denied. This will provide some applicants time to come into compliance, which is good, but might make it more difficult to secure investors for those applicants looking for capital to enable expansion in the near future.
While the last year has been a painful journey for many in the industry, we continue to appreciate the willingness of Dan Hartman and others at the MMED [Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division] to work with our clients in a transparent way.
WW: Is there a fear that the federal government could target large dispensaries and grow operations even when they're operating within the guidelines of Colorado law?
JC: The federal government continues to contradict itself when it comes to treatment of this industry. We have an active dialogue going with those in various agencies and Congress with the hope that the Feds will respect the rights afforded under our state constitution, including Colorado's estimated 150,000 registered patients.
WW: In contrast, do some growers and dispensary owners sense that state regulations will protect them from federal prosecution and allow them to move forward with more clarity about the future?
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JC: Given the bi-partisan courage of state lawmakers over the last eighteen months, and their willingness to condemn federal raids of state-compliant businesses, our clients remain incredibly aware of their need to comply with every aspect of state law, and they are hopeful that the officials they elect will represent their rights. Still, this industry faces unique legal challenges, and most of our clients seem themselves as 10th Amendment warriors. On a daily basis, they are taking a stand for fiscal responsibility and freedom from unjustified government intrusion into our lives.
WW: How is the 70/30 rule working?
JC: The 70/30 requirement has been an endless source of confusion. Local-permitting hiccups, together with uncertainty with how the state will define compliance with this rule, has made many clients hesitant to produce excess marijuana to serve the wholesale market. That being said, this is starting to become a more viable market with each passing day.
WW: How has this rule, and increasing competition, impacted prices at dispensaries in the area?
JC: Wholesale and retail prices are generally down, and in some markets sharply down. When the state starts issuing formal license denials this summer, however, we anticipate that the marketplace will continue to thin out and we'll see more marketplace stability and quality control, which will likely stabilize prices or drive them back up. Patients will have a wide selection in terms of quality and price.
WW: Have bans in some metro-area municipalities led to increased business among nearby dispensaries in areas where they're allowed to operate?
JC: Local bans and local denials of specific businesses have hit some patients very hard. Imagine being told you can't go to the doctor of your choice, or that in spite of the fact that you lawfully operated prior to local bans prohibiting you from staying open, you must now shutter your business for good. We believe such government action violates state law and continue to challenge various cities and counties in court.
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WW: How do you see the industry growing and moving forward?
JC: Our clients are exhausted yet excited. They feel like they are finally emerging from the black cloud of prohibition, and yet they must remain vigilant in their compliance. We are finalizing a compliance manual for marijuana-related businesses. We plan to review it line-by-line with state officials and then provide it to businesses for their own use.
The medical marijuana industry has seen some bumps and bruises but for those who have survived, the future looks bright. Next step: getting the federal government to listen to voters in Colorado and the nation's fifteen other medical marijuana states.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Ganjapreneur says Arizona easier to do business in than Colorado right now."