Medical marijuana bill worse than nothing, says Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho

As noted in just-published posts, advocate Matt Brown is a fan of HB 1284, the just-passed measure to regulate the medical marijuana industry, while attorney Brian Vicente sees both that bill and SB 109, about the relationship between doctors and MMJ patients, as flawed landmarks.

The Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho doesn't agree with either of these positions. When asked if there's anything good in the measures, she pauses only briefly before answering, "No." In her opinion, "they're not better than nothing."

Kriho has been promoting marijuana reform for eighteen years. But despite this long struggle, she doesn't see official recognition of medical marijuana dispensaries by the state legislature as worthy of applause in and of itself, particularly given that the status quo seems to be working so well, in her estimation.

"I think it's going to be harder for patients to get their medicine and harder for patients to be part of the program," she says. "The general assembly was hoodwinked into believing that if they didn't do something, all the dispensaries would be closed overnight -- they were led to believe they were operating illegally. Even some dispensary owners I talked to thought they were operating illegally, for some reason. And it's not true.

"We had a system where patients were getting their medicine for the first time without any problems and the prices had started to come down. Now, it'll be the complete opposite. Prices will go up and patients will get scared away. They won't be able to afford it anymore."

According to Kriho, legislators who voted in favor of HB 1284 and SB 109 saw themselves as using "a public-safety model, but we call it a law-enforcement model. If they'd come at it from a medical perspective, it would have been an entirely different bill -- and the more I read it, the more I think nobody can comply with it. The deadlines are coming up so quickly. It's really unheard of to make this many changes in an industry and not give people time to come into compliance. It just shows that the ulterior motives behind this whole thing is to shut people down. They said they wanted to make the industry legitimate, but what they really wanted was to shut it down, and that's what's going to happen."

Earlier today during an appearance on Channel 4, Senator Chris Romer predicted that HB 1284 would result in 50 percent of the state's dispensaries closing, and as Kriho points out, he's earlier talked about a 50-to-80 percent closure rate. Those are big numbers, but she thinks the real ones will actually be larger.

"Let's say there are 500 dispensaries in Colorado," she says. "If 80 percent went out of business, that would mean there would only be 100 left -- but I would be surprised if there are 100 that could comply with these regulations. It's going to cost a fortune for them to come up to compliance.

"Let's be very clear about this -- that's what Chris Romer always says, and if I hear that one more time, I'm going to barf -- but they're forcing patients into the black market. The general assembly has gone on all year about how dispensaries aren't what voters intended -- but according to them, what voters really must have wanted was for patients to have to go into dark alleys to get their medicine. Because by passing this bill, that's what's going to happen.

"All of this was underground before last summer, and then it came out of the closet for a brief period of time, so people could see how safe it was and how it helped supply patients with medicine -- and helped them get off their Oxycontin and other narcotics. But now, by making all the requirements so difficult to comply with, it's just going to go back underground, and they won't see it. And that's what they want. They won't have to get calls from people complaining that they don't want to see a pot leaf on a dispensary sign. And I guess that will make them happy."

She feels lawmakers will be considerably less thrilled about "all the tax dollars local government is going to lose. They've become dependent on those extra thousands of dollars they've been getting from dispensaries."

In spite of her fears, Kriho hasn't totally given up hope that a handful of dispensaries may be able to stay in business, despite a new thicket of state regulation. To that end, CTI is sponsoring a legal training session with attorney Rob Corry, slated for Tuesday, May 18; click here for more information.

In the meantime, Kriho is putting her hopes for stopping what she considers to be the worst aspects of HB 1284 and SB 109 into the hands of lawyers like Corry.

"There's a chance some of this can be stopped by injunction, or by being declared unconstitutional," she says. "But there's also a possibility that a lot of it will be left standing."

And from her perspective, that's not good news.

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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