Medical marijuana bill changes treat MMJ like crime, says advocate Matt Brown

Last Wednesday, we shared with you the flurry of alterations made by a senate committee in HB 1284, a bill intended to regulate the medical marijuana industry.

On Friday, the bill headed to an appropriations committee, where significant shifts weren't anticipated. But while the main fight is still expected to take place when the legislation reaches the full senate, perhaps as early as tomorrow, two new changes have been inserted into the bill, shortening the period to implement it from a year to about six weeks and requiring dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their inventory just as quickly.

In the view of Matt Brown of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, "It seems like somebody has forgotten that the whole point of these regulations is to define and regulate a business structure. This is not a criminal issue."

Brown, who deals with these topics in a new Huffington Post essay, is still trying to figure out how and when this new language made its way into the bill, which has ballooned to 72 pages in length.

"I talked briefly to [Department of Revenue staffer] Matt Cook after the 1:30 appropriations meeting on Friday, and he's the one who said to me with big eyes, 'This is in there,'" Brown notes. "I'm not sure if it was officially added during the appropriations morning meeting at 7 a.m. or what. One of our lobbyists said it might have been added during a meeting after the conference committee voted."

In any event, he continues, "everything would go into effect on July 1 of this year," as opposed to that date serving as something of (Brown's words) a "straw poll" to figure out how many folks were likely to apply for dispensary licenses and so on, with full implementation waiting until July 1, 2011. As such, he says, "the Department of Revenue would be processing applications, writing the rules that go with the bill and enforcing both the bill and whatever new rules are written simultaneously.

"By rushing everything forward, the initial application becomes a nonrefundable application fee that has to cover the expected costs for all the things that are supposed to be going on -- something we previously had a year to figure out."

Although Brown doesn't believe these changes represent "a conscious effort to shut people down," he sees no logical reason for reducing the time frame so radically. "It's not like we're discovering some new club drug that was just invented and we've got to get criminal laws in place as quickly as possible," he says. "The point is to get a handle on what this industry should be and give us time to finally be rational business people. We haven't had a fixed target about what the rules are throughout this process, which accounts for the chaos you've seen. But it's not going to make the situation better if we rush the implementation like we're dealing with a criminal threat and not a set of pragmatic business regulations."

The same goes for the so-called "70/30 rule," which would require dispensaries to almost instantly begin growing the vast majority of its products rather than having a year to meet that standard.

CMMR will be lobbying vigorously to restore the original one-year period for implementation on top of trying to undue other last minute amendments that are either already in place or are expected to be pushed by Senator Chris Romer. For one thing, Romer's said he wants to ban 21-year olds from going into dispensaries even though the state constitution gives eighteen-year olds the right to use MMJ legally.

In the meantime, Brown says, "it's time to get into election mode. If we have people who are doing this type of thing, we need to be supporting their opponents, just like we will support all the candidates willing to work with us."

It should be easier to tell who fits into these categories over the coming days.

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