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Medical marijuana: Brian Vicente on Wyoming ruling against MMJ patient, crime stats story

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Medical marijuana has been enshrined in the Colorado constitution since 2000, with a new MMJ regulatory law signed into law this past June and more medical marijuana legislation in the pipeline. But that's not the case in other states, as the Wyoming Supreme Court recently reminded a Boulder patient. Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente weighs in on this situation, as well as on the question of whether dispensaries make their neighborhoods riskier.

The Wyoming Supreme Court ruling pertained to Boulder's Daniel Burns, who was busted in March 2009 for possession of more than one pound of weed. Burns's attorneys argued that he shouldn't have been punished for this act, since he had a doctor's recommendation. But Justice Michael Golden, writing for the court majority, rejected this assertion due to the state's role in approving medical marijuana use for individuals. "Importantly, it is not the action of the physician that determines any potential possession of marijuana by the patient," the court's opinion states. "Clearly, therefore, the physician is not prescribing or ordering the possession of marijuana."

Vicente's reaction?

"I'm disappointed that the Wyoming Supreme Court did not do the compassionate thing and respect that this man was using marijuana legally under Colorado law," he says. "But at the same time, Colorado's licensed patients really need to know that their rights do not necessarily extend across our state's borders."

Indeed, medical marijuana rules in the U.S. are hardly universal. As Vicente notes, several states, including Michigan, Montana, Rhode Island and Arizona, "allow a degree of reciprocity for Colorado card holders, but each of these laws is different. In Arizona, for instance, a patient would not be criminally prosecuted, but he couldn't buy from a state-licensed dispensary, because that's the way the law is written. And further muddying the waters is the TSA in Denver allowing patients to fly to other medical marijuana states with their medication -- but is it really legal for them to cross borders or not? And what if they're traveling over a non-medical-marijuana state?"

This "emerging area of law," as Vicente describes it, seems sure to confound patients and attorneys alike for years to come. "Until the federal government changes its stance on medical marijuana, we're going to have a patchwork quilt of different states treating patients in different manners," he concedes. "In the meantime, the onus is on the patients to educate themselves as much as possible about our state law and where it may or may not have powers."

In the meantime, Vicente admits to being befuddled by "Medical-Marijuana Dispensaries' Effect on Crime Unclear," the page-one story in today's Denver Post. The piece notes that the crime-rate drop in areas that include dispensaries was marginally less than the decline in other neighborhoods. But while some observers, including Ernie Martinez, president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association and a longtime opponent of MMJ rules as currently written, see this as proof that dispensaries make their neighborhoods less safe, others quizzed by the Post, ranging from marijuana advocates to cops, are far less certain.

Count Vicente among the latter group. "When I saw that it was the above-the-fold story, I was surprised, because it seemed like a non-story to me," he says. "There was no data to back up anything. Ernie Martinez is not one to actually cite numbers -- and he's someone who tries to incite the public sentiment to be negative about medical marijuana issues.

"I really think we need to study this closer," he continues. "And we need a fair-and-balanced story that actually looks at all the good things that dispensaries bring to communities, including jobs, increased tax revenue and, of course, medicine for sick people."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Tom Massey says HB 1043, new MMJ bill, should help law enforcement."

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