Exactly six people and a chihuahua showed up at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this afternoon to protest what they say is an extraordinary wait time to receive their medical marijuana cards. Some patients are waiting so long for their applications to be processed, the protesters said, that the money orders are expiring before they're cashed by the state.
"It's been eight months, where is my damn card?" shouted Ty Link to the nearly empty courtyard in front of the office buildings. "I want my money back, with interest."
Pacing by himself in front of the building with a sign reading "Hire Me - Not: I use medical cannabis," William "Wayward Bill" Chengalis said he was disappointed in the turnout. Chengelis, assistant executive director for the Marijuana Party of Colorado, said more than $10 million in patient registration fees has been collected by the state for medical marijuana license applications since Amendment 20 passed in 2000. He said the state has been receiving applications at the rate of 300 to 1,000 a day for the last year.
"It is ludicrous that the backlog is six to eight months to get your license, by the time you get your license you are ready to reapply again," he said. "They have the funds to allocate -- and even hire a temp to come in and help them with this backlog -- and they aren't doing anything about it."
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Supporters said they hoped for a better turnout based on how many people responded to the event on Facebook; however, by 12:30 it seemed that the bulk of the protesters had arrived or were foiled by a lack of parking. "Wow, not even the Glendale Police [showed up]," laughed Robert Chase, founder of the Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers. "If I'm going to make a statement on behalf of patients, I at least need two patients to find their way back from the parking lot."
Nonetheless, Chase used the opportunity to speak his mind about the delay in processing patient cards as well as outlining what he sees as a unified government front against cannabis.
"It is crystal-clear in talking to Ned Calonge [Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] and hearing his testimony, what his priorities are," Chase said. "Way at the top of the list ... have to do with combating what he sees as medical fraud. He is not concerned about the fact that patient costs are going to go up, or that patient access is going to be restricted."
CDPHE officials had asked for more assistance months ago, but only recently received permission from the state legislature to hire more personnel through Senate Bill 109.