Medical marijuana bill to be target of lawsuits, Jessica Corry announces

Although HB 1284, the medical marijuana regulatory bill (read the latest version here), has been passed by the Senate, it won't be law until the Colorado House and Governor Bill Ritter sign off on it.

Nonetheless, the measure already faces the promise of legal challenges. Today, attorney Jessica Corry, who yesterday launched the Women's Marijuana Movement, is announcing a coalition of law firms and medical marijuana organizations designed to support MMJ patients who may be disenfranchised as a result of caregiver limits and the ability of communities to ban dispensaries.

In addition, she says, the group is asking lawmakers to reconsider a number of provisions that "raise questions about their commitment to protect not only patients' rights afforded under Amendment 20, but also other protections provided under federal law, state statutes and other parts of the state constitution" or else potentially face court challenges.

Corry concedes that some aspects of the bill represent "a step in the right direction," including a decision to redact addresses of grow operations from public databases. But there are also a number of what she considers deal-breakers.

"We were repeated told by Senator [Chris] Romer that there would be no five-patient caregiver limits, that due process would be protected, and that there would be no local-ban provision," she says. "And all three of those things to different degrees appear in the final bill."

With that in mind, Hoban & Feola, Corry's law firm, is joining forces attorneys Rob Corry (Jessica's husband), Lauren Davis and Sean McAllister, as well as Sensible Colorado, led by Brian Vicente, and the Colorado Wellness Association. Their first goal, Corry says, is to "start raising funds for legal defense for those who can't afford it. We want indigent patients in rural areas and communities that may ban dispensaries to know that we're there for them." And while "we don't know what the final bill will look like," she goes on, "we've repeated expressed to lawmakers throughout this session that there are four or five areas that could lead to litigation." If those sections remain, the coalition will likely join together to file a lawsuit targeting them.

Corry runs through what she sees as the biggest issue one by one. First up is that five-patient-per-caregiver limit:

"What Amendment 20 demands is that there be a viable vehicle for patients to receive their medicine," Corry says. "But with a provision that provides for local bans, caregivers will be left in a situation where they have to care for five patients or less, and they may even be subject to local prohibitive regulations. And that's not to mention how it removes any kind of economies of scale, which will have a detrimental impact on them and their patients."

She next cites "the resident requirement that any wellness center operator had to have moved here by December 2009 or earlier. That may appear to be a slight improvement over the original provision, which required a two-year residency. But it's still highly subject to constitutional questions. The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down efforts to discriminate based on residency status. And that provision is harmful for a variety of reasons on a practical level. Why are we discouraging people who moved here after a certain date from providing medicine to people who need it? Given our current economy and the fact that we now have an estimated 130,000 patients, we should be encouraging a system that allows the best to rise to the top."

Third? "Excessive licensing fees, which is part of a larger concern about the power that's relegated to the executive branch. What we've seen repeatedly when we've challenged previous regulatory efforts is that there have been repeated abuses in this process -- meetings that were held without proper notice being given to people and more."

As pointed out earlier, Corry is also concerned about the prospect of locality bans: "We were successful in shooting down Centennials' efforts to ban dispensaries all together, and in his ruling, Judge Christopher Cross gave a strongly worded reprimand to the city, saying such a move caused irreparable harm not just to patients and caregivers involved in the case, but to all of us, because of the way they were disregarding Amendment 20 and the constitution of the state."

Finally, Corry mentions "due process. There are several provisions that raise very serious questions about whether or not patient privacy will be protected or whether there will be artificial barriers to entry against certain classes of people."

That's a big pile of issues, and it's hard to imagine all of them will be resolved before the bill becomes law. And if they're not, Corry and her compatriots promise action.

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