Medical marijuana: Chris Romer wants to raise the age for MMJ patients requiring two doctor recommendations to 23

Senator Chris Romer is the sponsor of Senate Bill 109, a measure that aims to clarify the relationship between doctors and medical marijuana patients. It was approved by the Senate in February.

Last week, however, Romer admitted to being unhappy that a requirement calling for MMJ patients 21 and under to get two doctor recommendations before receiving a state-issued card hadn't made SB-109's final cut. He said he'd bring a new proposal mandating that such patients consult with a substance-abuse specialist as well as a doctor to a conference committee.

Well, that conference committee hearing is scheduled for today, and Romer's tweaked his approach again. This time, he says the two-doctor recommendation is back in the plan, and he wants the age raised from 21 to 23. Why?

"The Colorado Medical Society and the Colorado association of adolescent psychiatrists and the Colorado association of substance-abuse doctors all strongly believe the risk of substance abuse drops dramatically at age 23 or over," Romer says. "So we went with the data where the risk of substance abuse dramatically declines."

Romer mentioned figures like these in his March 29 interview. However, he also talked about the likely reason his fellow legislators hadn't supported his original language making 21-and-under MMJ patients get two doctor recommendations while those over that age were asked to get just one. "Members felt it violated equal protection, since there's already a specific reference to one referral in the constitution," he said. "They thought the second referral was too high an impediment."

How does he counter this argument today?

"The standard is only that we not create an unreasonable barrier," he says, "and obviously, we don't think it's unreasonable. We think it's supported by data, and we as legislators always have the right to add layers on top of constitutional amendments so long as we don't deny people their rights. And putting a second opinion on patients who are eighteen to 23 isn't an unreasonable barrier. It isn't going to deny anybody with an appropriate medical condition from their right to medical marijuana."

That's not how medical marijuana advocate Rob Corry sees it. In a separate interview with Westword last week, Corry argued that even the additional requirement involving a substance-abuse expert might spur litigation. "To qualify if you're eighteen or over, you need the advice of a doctor, period," he said. "It's a minimum requirement spelled out in our constitution, and to create an additional burden on them is inconsistent with the constitution." He added, "People who are between eighteen and 21, many of them don't have a lot of disposable income. They''re young, just getting started, maybe still in school. So this extra requirement is an attack on one of the most vulnerable segments of our population, at least financially."

Romer's response?

"That's just not a reasonable argument," he says. "When people are only asked to pay for a doctor referral fee, I don't think that has credibility. Clearly, we know there's a true risk of substance abuse when people get chronically involved with marijuana under age 23. It's a real problem. Numbers from Denver Health and other emergency rooms are really starting to tick up.

"I think the medical marijuana community needs to understand that this is a reasonable, common-sense requirement to reduce the risk of substance abuse."

What about the fact that people can legally purchase alcohol at age 21, but medical marijuana patients would have an additional burden placed upon them until they're 23?

"People talk about liquor at 21, but that's recreational use, and this is medicinal use," Romer replies.

Besides, Romer doubts that a large number of people in this category actually need medical marijuana anyway: "If you look at the national health statistics of people under 23, and how many have the chronic conditions described in the amendment, I'm a little hard-pressed to see that a lot of them qualify."

Either way, it's a numbers game.

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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