Medical Marijuana Crackdown Bill Now Law: More About Money Than Safety?

Today, Governor John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 15-014, which has been characterized as a "medical pot crackdown bill."

Among other things, the legislation will empower a board, in consultation with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to "establish guidelines for physicians making medical marijuana recommendations."

The provision is backed by those, like Aguilar, who doubt that most medical marijuana card holders receiving recommendations for treatment of severe pain — a group that makes up approximately 93 percent of the total — actually suffer from this condition.

But is this new rule more about safety or money? Even though 15-014 is now law, the debate continues to rage.

The highest-profile backer of the bill was Senator Irene Aguilar, whose website lists her as "Senator Irene Aguilar, M.D." and stresses her own medical background. Here's an excerpt:

"She attended Washington University in St. Louis on scholarship and received her medical degree from the University of Chicago-Pritzker School of Medicine," her online bio notes. "In 1985 she moved to Denver for her residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Her affiliation with Denver Health began at this time, as this was the site of her training in outpatient internal medicine. Dr. Aguilar worked for 23 years as a Primary Care Provider for Denver Health and Hospitals and now serves on their board of directors."

Will the bill's new guidelines make it more difficult for physicians to recommend medical marijuana to those who say they are plagued by severe pain? If so, longtime Westword marijuana writer William Breathes fears some patients who really need MMJ will be deprived of recommendations. An excerpt from a March post on the topic reads:
Studies show that as many as 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and that it affects more people than diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer combined. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, 20 percent of all American adults experience chronic pain severe enough to disrupt their sleep at least two times a week. The number of patients on the Colorado medical marijuana registry who claim severe pain is around 105,500 — just below 2 percent of the total state population. The fact that 1.97 percent of the state’s residents experience chronic pain and have turned to cannabis to help is hardly surprising or shocking.
Breathes also notes that the assorted lawmakers in favor of the proposal "have made it clear that the measure is a way to move some medical marijuana patients into recreational pot sales, which are taxed at higher rates than medical pot sales, in order to generate 'valuable tax revenue' for state and local governments."

The differences between the amount of tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana versus medical cannabis are stark, as we pointed out last week in a post about rec pot setting a new sales record in March — $42 million.

Here are two graphics that illustrate the point. The first one features sales tax revenue for medical marijuana....

...while the second shows numbers for recreational marijuana:

Statistics cited by Breathes show that a sizable number of medical marijuana patients have already been dropping off the state registry in recent months. But the new law seems intended to speed up that process — and make Colorado more money along the way.

Here's Senate Bill 15-014.

Senate Bill 15-014

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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