For some MMJ patients, medicating with others is a chance to hang out and talk about what ails them with people going through similar problems. For others, it's a way to explore new strains they might not have tried on their own. But while this kind of socializing/sharing among patients is very common, it's also against the law.
You read that right. Passing a joint or handing a bowl to a fellow patient is technically illegal under Colorado's medical marijuana statutes, which clearly define what is considered legal distribution.
I was a guest on a recent edition of the John Doe Radio Show, a daily local Internet radio program focusing on cannabis news and activism, when the topic of patients giving other patients meds came up. At the time, I figured that passing a joint between two patients or kicking down a bowl to a friend in need was totally acceptable to do. After all, possession is protected for patients under the state constitution.
But apparently I was wrong. Marijuana attorney Warren Edson, who donates space in his office for the JDR show to record, stopped in and schooled my ass on the subject: "If this is a joint and I give it to you, I've distributed it," he said. "How is that legal? How is that exchange legal?"
For the record: I still fully endorse the communal element of cannabis. But according to Edson, Michigan's dispensary system was set up on a patient-to-patient sales model that its courts have since ruled is against the state's medical marijuana laws -- and its rules are very similar to ones in Colorado.
"People would point to Amendment 20 and the double-negative section," he explains, referring to text permitting patients to purchase and possess cannabis legally from people who consider themselves to be caregivers. But additional caregiver regulations have invalidated that argument, he says: "Unfortunately, the Michigan courts, examining essentially that exact same language, have held that patient-to-patient sales are crap."
In Denver, there's an additional city ordinance preventing redistribution, and centers have to put stickers on all packaging making it clear that the meds are only intended for the person who buys them.
"So, if I were a center owner and I distribute to you as a patient, that's legal," Edson explains. "But if you talk about going home and giving it to your wife -- even if she's a patient -- all of a sudden we're in that head-shop 'bong' world.'" As he points out, head shops that sell bongs often prohibit that word to be uttered there under the theory that the term implies illegal use.
Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, confirms that patient-to-patient sales are technically illegal, since neither patient is a caregiver for the other. But the CDPHE isn't out looking for patients who are sharing joints, he notes.
"Upon receipt of complaint information of this nature, the department would evaluate that info to determine if any action could be taken regarding the patient's MMR ID card," he says. "But we probably wouldn't ever even hear about it to begin with."
Mum's the word.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Title board signs off on Relief for the Possession of Cannabis Act, latest pot measure."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.