Medical marijuana bill another step in the right direction, says advocate Matt Brown

Whereas the folks at the Cannabis Therapy Institute find lots to hate in Representative Tom Massey's medical marijuana bill, which makes its Capitol debut today, Matt Brown, head of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulations, is much less negative.

Not that he sees the legislation as ideal. "Thankfully, it's not done yet," he says. "It's nowhere close to done. But compared to a month ago, it's a little better. Compared to two months ago, it's a lot better. And compared to four months ago, it's a completely different world. So progression is absolutely going in the right direction."

The two biggest changes? The nonprofit structure originally touted by Massey is gone, as is the ban on most kinds of advertising by dispensaries.

"Those were the two most glaring issues," Brown says. "And they're a lot closer to where we need them to be."

Nonetheless, he sees a need for alteration when it comes to what he calls "licensing terminology.

"The bill calls for a clear dispensary license, a clear, and separate, grow license, and a third license for infused products manufacturers, which will be for anyone who's making a processed product: the lotions, the tinctures, the edibles, the oils -- anything involving using the raw plant and taking something from it. And that last license clarifies that they don't have to get patients. It essentially says the manufacturers are part of the overall supply chain, so it's okay for a dispensary to contract with them, and they're allowed to possess the product without having patient records in their names. So the only problem left is the linkage that says, if you're going to get a grow license, you also have to have a dispensary."

This last requirement ties in to the attempt by Massey and other bill sponsors to formally connect dispensaries and grow operations -- the theory being that doing so will help authorities make sure marijuana is coming from legitimate, sanctioned sources rather than the illegal marketplace. Hence the passage on page 27 of the current bill, which reads, "a medical marijuana licensee may purchase not more than twenty-five percent of its total on-hand inventory of medical marijuana from another licensed medical marijuana center in Colorado. A medical marijuana center may sell no more than twenty-five percent of its total on-hand inventory to another Colorado licensed medical marijuana licensee."

This rule is problematic, Brown says, "because some people only want to be independent growers. They don't want to run a dispensary. And it seems to create a system where someone could just stock up on inventory and have it sit there -- but have no more than 25 percent of it at any given time available to anybody else. The percentage is so vague and strange that it doesn't seem to stop what they want it to stop."

Brown is hopeful that tweaks can be made during the political process, rather than demanding that every less-than-ideal element be tossed, as some medical marijuana backers advocate. In that sense, his thinking is closer to that of Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt, who argued in a blog published yesterday that "you can't make the great be the enemy of the good."

"I think that piece couldn't have hit the point more perfectly," Brown allows. He feels that folks like those who'll show up at a Capitol rally today at noon "are bringing out valid issues -- but how they choose to express them may or may not help the overall process.

"There seems to be this idea that every time this comes up for debate, it's a live-or-die vote and we must marshal the no-no, stop-this-now sentiment, because it can't be stopped later. But at the legislature, things work very differently. We got past a lot of things that were very problematic, including some of the patient limits that law enforcement wanted, and today is one more step in the process. And I don't think there's anybody in the legislature who's saying, 'We're not going to touch the issue this year. We'll just punt until next year.'

"If they're actually sitting down at the table in some degree of good faith and saying, 'Let's do it right,' it doesn't make sense for us to throw up our hands and say, 'You haven't come far enough, so we're not talking to you.'

"If the entire industry does that, we'll probably get rules that are a lot worse than they are now just by being that extreme. Certainly, some people will want to be very vocal today and say, 'This isn't the right bill. We can't support it.' But I think there will be a lot more of us saying, 'It's not perfect, and there's more work to do -- but it's another step in the right direction.'"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts