Medical marijuana bill: Brian Vicente ready with ballot measure if final results suck

Today at 2 p.m., the public will be able to comment as House Bill 1284 reaches a senate committee.

It's sure to be a contentious session, since even pro-regulation advocates like Matt Brown see the latest version of the measure as regressive, and Senator Chris Romer is eager to add controversial amendments like one that bans everyone 21-and-under from dispensaries and envisions licensing fees of up to $35,000.

As for Sensible Colorado head Brian Vicente, he has assembled a medical-marijuana-industry ballot initiative that he'll withhold if the final measure is to his liking. And if not? "We're ready to hit the ground and gather signatures as needed," he says.

Vicente feels lawmakers "went over the top with discriminating against people with prior criminal records and preventing them from taking part in this new health-care field. It's my understanding that you're ineligible if you had any drug felony, including possession, ever, and that's just wildly overly prejudicial. You could have someone who was growing a single marijuana plant back in the '70s to help someone deal with cancer -- and if they were convicted, they wouldn't be eligible to engage in this industry thirty years later. I think they've gone way too far in that provision, and they're not reflective of societal norms.

"Today, we have medical marijuana laws in place and taken many activities that used to be crimes and completely legitimized them. And now we're saying that people who were using marijuana medically fifteen years ago or more are forever ineligible to take part in this program?"

In addition, the rejiggered bill gives municipalities the right to ban dispensaries. "That's a really difficult sticking point for Sensible Colorado," Vicente says. "Banning dispensaries is the equivalent of banning pharmacies in Colorado. I think patients should have convenient access to medicine and not have to take a bus out of town to get their doctor-sanctioned medicine."

One way cities can ban dispensaries is to put the question on the ballot -- something Vicente might be able to accept. But he's distressed at the prospect that "a city council can ban dispensaries, like Aurora has. You've got overly conservative council members there who are voting to discriminate against the minority, which is poor, sick patients -- and they shouldn't have the power to deny these individuals access to health care without a full vote of the people in that community."

Of course, these aspects of the bill can still be removed. Should they remain, Vicente is prepared to formally launch his initiative.

"We're seeing more restrictions being pushed by some legislators and, frankly, by the governor's office -- and their chief concern doesn't seem to be looking out for patients. I think they're coming more from a law-enforcement standpoint.

"That's one of the reasons why we're closely watching this legislation move forward and reserving the right to go to the people."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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