Medical marijuana registry delays: Relief could be coming

As the number of people applying for Colorado medical marijuana licenses has multiplied, so has the amount of time required for the state to process all that paperwork. What started as a month delay stretched to three, then four months last fall. Now it's seven or eight months -- way too long, say patient advocates.

"If it's now taking eight months to process a twelve-month permit, what's the point?" asks Dan Pope, volunteer patient outreach coordinator with Sensible Colorado, a drug-policy reform organization that recently submitted a formal complaint to the state regarding the delays.

Such holdups used to work to the patients' benefit, since the state dated each twelve-month license on the day it was issued, meaning each applicant got an additional twelve months on top of the several months they'd been waiting for their card. But now, Pope says, the state is backdating the licenses from the day the application was received, meaning each new card will only be good for four or five months, and then the patient will have to start the process all over again.

While they wait for their cards, patients often use their signed doctor's recommendations at dispensaries, but that poses its own problems. "An application is an identity thief's dream," Pope says. "It has your name, address, social security and phone numbers, and it can have your caregiver information, which can expose those people to crime."

State registrar Ron Hyman feels the patients' pain. His office is in charge of processing all medical marijuana applications -- 60,000 to 70,000 total so far, he estimates. "It's quite a challenge coming in every morning and looking at those piles and piles of mail," he says. "My staff wants to do a good job, they want to do good customer service, and they are facing an overwhelming battle right now."

Hyman's looking at some help on the horizon. In the recently approved state budget, he scored funding for twenty new positions -- ten permanent and ten temporary, in addition to the three permanent and ten temporary he currently has -- to deal with the application onslaught. He can't hire them until the new budget takes effect on July 1, however. Even though his office collects $90 with each application, Hyman can only hire the number of people the legislature authorizes, and only when the legislature authorizes them.

And the backlog won't go away entirely. With the current staffing levels, Hyman says, his office is lucky to make it through 300 to 500 applications a day -- at the same time, they're receiving an additional 1,000 applications daily, including on the weekends, when nobody is working. That's why the pile of 40,000 to 50,000 applications that Hyman has stashed in a storage room, waiting to be processed, is constantly growing. Still, he figures that the numbers have to level off some day.

"There has to be a high point at some point," Hyman says with good-natured optimism. "There are only five million people in the state."

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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