Medical marijuana: Could the Supreme Court's Clendenin decision hurt caregivers?

The court case People v. Clendenin has already proved troublesome to Colorado's medical marijuana community -- and those problems could soon start growing again.

Last October, the Court of Appeals upheld the drug conviction of Longmont resident Stacy Clendenin even though she argued she was a medical marijuana caregiver. Rob Corry, Clendenin's lawyer, appealed that ruling, but on Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to consider it. The decision raises questions about what, exactly, people have to do in order to be considered a caregiver.

In its October judgment, the Court of Appeals said a marijuana caregiver had to do more for patients than just supply them with pot. That seemed to conflict with how most Colorado caregivers and dispensaries were operating, and soon after, the state Board of Health held a contentious emergency meeting in which they chucked their entire caregiver definition into the rubbish bin.

Since the Board didn't offer an alternative, the move threatened to cause massive upheaval in the medical marijuana industry until Denver District Judge Larry Naves reversed the Board of Health's decision a week later.

The Board of Health hasn't broached the subject again, and the caregiver issue has more or less been in legal limbo -- but that could now change.

Corry, for one, is disappointed about the high court's decision for the sake of his client. However, he doesn't believe it's going to have wide-ranging ramifications because he characterizes it as "narrowly defined and backwards looking." He notes that the Board of Appeals' decision that a caregiver must do more than just provide pot only pertained to caregivers who were operating before a July 2009 Board of Health hearing in which it was decided that all a caregiver had to do was, in fact, hand over marijuana. Judge Naves seemed to agree with this argument when he ruled that the Board of Health didn't need to hold an emergency meeting and scrap its caregiver definition because of the Clendenin ruling.

Still, the Board of Health could use the Supreme Court's decision as justification to once again reconsider what it means to be a marijuana caregiver, possibly as part of new rules it's required to put in place as part of House Bill 1284, recently passed legislation that adds new regulations to the state medical marijuana industry.

But even if they do so, Corry thinks new caregiver rules won't impact as many people as it once would have. Thanks to HB 1284, only folks caring for five patients or less will be considered caregivers going forward. All the rest will be considered marijuana centers, business entities that will be under the purview of the Department of Revenue and not subject to the caregiver definition.

Even so, people shouldn't expect Corry to take any new caregiver rules lying down. "They have forced me to sue them twice now, and both times we have prevailed," he says of the Board of Health. And he doesn't seem gun-shy about taking them on again.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner