Medical marijuana: HB 1043 co-sponsor Pat Steadman not sure he agrees with entire bill

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Last week, we shared info about HB 1043, a new medical marijuana bill co-sponsored by Representative Tom Massey, who helped shepherd Colorado's main MMJ regulatory bill through the legislature and into law.

Partnering with Massey is Senator Pat Steadman, who describes 1043 as a work in progress. He admits being uncertain that he agrees with everything in the current draft, on view below.

"I started working on some cleanup and changes to the bill that passed last year," Steadman explains. "Then I learned Tom Massey wanted to do the same thing, and I felt it would be better not to have two different bills moving through the process that were both trying to do the same thing -- address things that got left out, things that were drafted incorrectly or are perhaps being interpreted in a way that wasn't intended now that the departments are implementing the legislation.

"So the two got merged together," he continues, "and we agreed Tom would start it in the house. So there are things in this bill that are his, and I told him I may not be 100 percent on board with all of them. But as the bill moves through the process, we'll have those debates."

At this point, Steadman is still studying Massey's proposals -- but he's eager to talk about his own areas of interest, beginning with what's known as the 35-day rule. That edict asks patients not to buy medical marijuana until 35 days after an application is turned in to give the health department time to approve or reject the submission.

For most of last year, the department took far longer than that to consider aps, "and now that they've caught up, I don't know that it's quite as bad a problem," Steadman concedes. "But in my mind, if a doctor recommends medical marijuana, a patient should be able to get that medication on the way home from the doctor's office, just like with prescription drugs. I know some paperwork has to be filled out -- so maybe a patient would need to go to a post office in between. But to the extent that a doctor says, 'This is going to help you,' we should let the patient have access. They shouldn't have to wait for bureaucrats at the health department to process their application."

Steadman was also troubled by the health department's rejection of nearly 2,000 MMJ applications last year after deciding that doctors with conditions or restrictions on their licenses shouldn't be allowed to make recommendations. About 1,300 applications were reinstated after public outcry, but only temporarily -- and an advisory committee recently left language about conditions and restrictions intact.

"I realize we may only be talking about a few doctors," Steadman says. "But the health department took a pretty hard line. So I've tried to create a procedure where doctors can go to get clarification from their licensing board."

Why is this necessary? Steadman cites the example of a surgeon who'd told he can no longer operate because he's developed a tremor -- "but just because he can't hold a scalpel doesn't mean he can't treat chronic pain. That doesn't have anything to do with his medical judgment."

Given that the health department has been pushing for MMJ-recommendation bans against physicians with conditions or restrictions on their license, officials might be expected to oppose this portion of 1043 -- but Steadman is optimistic.

"I fleshed out this idea during a conversation with someone from the health department, who was very supportive," agreeing with the general premise that "it shouldn't be one of their employees asked to pass judgment and interpret a license condition or restriction. That decision should be made by the medical board, not by folks over at the health department."

In addition, Steadman wants to let infused-product manufacturers share kitchens or facilities in ways that are currently nixed, and he's still working on ways to address patient-confidentiality concerns, among other things. However, the bill doesn't take on the part of last year's bill that allowed communities or municipalities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries by a vote of local governing bodies or the area's citizens.

"When I voted for 1284, it was kind of a hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-it thing -- and I did not like those provisions," he allows. "I think people who object to them by saying they're unconstitutional may have a pretty good argument. But one reason I decided not to tackle the issue this year is that it's going to be litigated and we're going to get a ruling from the Supreme Court" -- although not as quickly as originally thought.

Another factor: "The election brought a lot of changes to the legislature, and I don't know that revisiting that issue and achieving a different outcome than last year would be politically feasible."

In Steadman's view, 1043 needn't become the dominant legislative issue that it was last year. He hopes it will move through the state house and senate with a minimum of muss and fuss. Nonetheless, he's under no illusions that the tweaks will be done at that point.

"In all likelihood, the legislature will keep working on changes and improvements on the regulatory scheme for a number of years," he says. "But it's here to stay, and we're proving to be a model for other states that are looking to create a viable and well-regulated medical marijuana industry."

Page down to read the current draft of HB 1043.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: Colorado Supreme Court rejects petition challenging MMJ laws."

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