Representative Tom Massey: "We consider the dispensaries a loophole in the law"

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This week, Senator Chris Romer confirmed that he's ditched most of the elements in his long-in-the-works medical marijuana proposal in favor of a streamlined bill focusing on establishing what he calls "a meaningful doctor-patient relationship."

Meanwhile, Representative Tom Massey, a Republican from Poncha Springs, plans to introduce a measure modeled on proposals by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. The latter imposes a limit of five patients per caregiver, which would essentially outlaw dispensaries of the sort that have popped up all over Colorado -- and although Massey stresses that the final number isn't locked in, he confirms that "we consider the dispensaries a loophole in the law."

Massey's name was first linked with what's become known as the law-enforcement bill on Monday, and immediately thereafter, he says he began to receive ominous calls and messages from members of the medical marijuana community.

"I think the dispensary folks realized that with the bill, at least as it is right now, they'd have trouble staying in business," he says. "They resented the fact that we might be effecting their livelihood, and some of them reacted a little more stringently than others."

These threats weren't so much on his life as they were on property -- meaning his home, he says. "My wife receiving those calls was not a good thing," he allows. But with police on the case, he says, "We want to get past that and stick to the issues."

According to Massey, "Senator Romer and I have been working on this bill all through the summer, and we reached the point where I think the senator was trying to please too many people. So he pared down his bill, and that turned one bill into two. The senate bill will deal with the medical fraud piece, and my bill will be subsequent, and will actually be the regulatory piece dealing with the distribution network, primary caregivers and the relationships with patients, and talking about grows and the like."

Regarding the limit of five patients for caregivers, Massey says, "That came out of the task force at the AG's office, and when I agreed to carry the bill, I agreed to start with their recommendation. But like everything else we do at the capitol, there's room for negotiation. We want to honor the voters of Amendment 20 [which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado] and address the concerns of patients, caregivers, doctors and law enforcement."

Medical marijuana supporters believe such strict restrictions are unconstitutional because of the way they would limit access. Massey isn't so sure.

"Realize that the amendment was vague enough so that everyone is going to interpret it somewhat differently," he says. "But the legal opinion we get out of the AG's office is that the dispensaries are an expansion of the intent of the original amendment. They have somewhat found a loophole in that they're defining themselves as primary caregivers.

"In reality, if you think about the role of a caregiver, how many people can a caregiver truly attend to? In the case of a dispensary that may have a thousand patients, how can you adequately give care to that many individuals?"

Another rub from his perspective: "We're dealing with something illegal at the federal level. Although I know the Obama administration said they would no longer prosecute medical marijuana possession in states that had medical marijuana statutes on the book -- which started this proliferation, quite honestly."

That said, Massey insists that he's not trying to put the kibosh on medical marijuana in Colorado -- at least not entirely.

"Everyone at the capitol wants to honor the will of the voter," he emphasizes. "But it's our belief that if the voter wants to see storefront dispensaries, that's something they should take to the ballot. It's similar to the argument about whether we should legalize marijuana. If that's the sentiment, take it to the ballot and vote on it."

What about the positive financial impact of the medical marijuana industry, particularly at a time when Colorado as a whole is in an economic hole?

"The state does desperately need revenue," he acknowledges. "But we don't want to derive revenue from something that's a constitutionally questionable alternative."

Members of the medical marijuana industry feel differently, Massey knows -- "and you're seeing some of the same thing in the commercial real estate market. It creates interesting bedfellows, no question." With that in mind, he's hoping to "have some face to faces with people" about the issue. "I've told all the disparate interest groups that I don't want to meet with them individually. The next meeting we have will be with all the vested interests. The dispensary folks and law enforcement all need to be sitting at the table moving forward."

There's not much time. Massey expects to introduce the bill next week -- "but we are very open to amendments and things like that. We want to make sure that we first honor the will of the people and the spirit of Amendment 20, and that we don't deny access to legitimate patients who would benefit from medical marijuana."

And the illegitimate ones?

"We know for a fact this is an issue," he says. "Even some media groups have gone into dispensaries and seen the ease with which you can obtain these prescriptions. There are legitimate, true users, and then there are people who see an advantage to having a legal card for recreational use. And that was never the intent of the amendment."

Passing a bill won't be easy, Massey concedes, "but it's necessary. The governor even addressed it in his state-of-the-state message. Whatever the regulation is, whether it's the bill I'm going to carry or some hybrid amendment version thereof, we need to get something on the books, so we truly know how we're going to go down the road on this.

"We know we're not going to make everybody completely happy, but we do hope we find a middle ground."

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