Medical marijuana waiting period: Patients and MMCs cry foul over 35-day restriction

Under Colorado's MMJ laws, patients aren't supposed to buy pot until 35 days after they've submitted their paperwork, because that's how long the state has to reject/return applications. In the past, however, most dispensaries would sell to patients before then because everyone believed they were covered under Amendment 20's "alternative defense" clause. Now, however, the 35-day rule may be rearing its ugly head.

That's because dispensaries -- or marijuana centers (MMCs), as they're officially labeled -- now fall under the purview of the new state MMJ laws rather than Amendment 20. And last week, Department of Revenue senior director of enforcement Matt Cook issued a statement cautioning MMCs not to sell to patients before the 35-day waiting period ends.

The outcry was immediate. "This new policy of restricting medicine to patients until they have been sick for over a month creates unnecessary pain and suffering for thousands of Colorado patients," declared patient advocate Timothy Tipton.

When the ReLeaf Center employees have told patients of the new interpretation, they've threatened to take their business to dispensaries willing to look the other way, says general manager Jake Browne. But when Browne brought up the issue with Cook, he says he was told that enforcement would be dependent on self-reporting of violations -- in other words, dispensaries would have to rat out others not following the rules.

"He wants the centers or patients to do all the dirty work," Browne notes. "The ones trying to follow the rules are the ones getting burned."

According to Julie Postlethwait, spokeswoman for the DOR's medical marijuana division, the enforcement issue is "a question that's being pursued." But even if the division comes up with a satisfactory answer to that, there's still the matter of patients not being able to prove when their 35-day waiting period officially expires. Many patients don't have solid documentation of when they submitted their application, because they didn't send it via certified mail, or they dropped the application off in the drop-box at the health department office, which doesn't give receipts, or they paid with a money order, and can't prove when it was cashed.

"You have a real clash between what the Department of Revenue is telling centers and patients, and how the CDPHE is actually running the thing," says Browne.

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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