Senator Al White's proposal to put the state in charge of growing and distributing medical marijuana

A Colorado Court of Appeals decision regarding medical marijuana -- as well as a subsequent Board of Health move to strike its definition of caregiver -- has led to a motion filed by pro-marijuana advocates, not to mention plenty of confusion over legal issues. Into this maelstrom steps Senator Al White, a Republican from Hayden, who's floating the idea of the state taking over the growing and distribution of medical marijuana, and suggesting that only licensed pharmacists fill patients' prescriptions. A seemingly simple notion -- but White concedes that he's getting plenty of push-back about it.

"The citizens of Colorado told us one thing and the feds are telling us another," White says. "It's difficult from my perspective to make those issues mesh."

White concedes that "there's no perfect solution" to this conundrum. But he sees putting the state in charge of the growing and distribution of medical marijuana as a way to "add some respectability to the program, and some certainty that the product being sold is of good, consistent quality." Problem is, "federal laws regarding marijuana identify it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means it's banned for sale in the United States. So in spite of the fact that the President has put out a memo telling the DEA to lay off enforcement aimed at medical marijuana in states where medical-marijuana laws exist, the state, were it to grow and sell, would be in contravention of the law."

Pharmacies that dispense medical marijuana would also be in the same situation. So while "there may be some independents that might want to move forward despite the DEA's requirements," White fears that "no large chains would want to take part" without assurance they wouldn't run afoul of the feds.

White plans to speak with DEA representatives this week to find out if there's any way these contradictions can be massaged. In the meantime, however, he believes the status quo is unacceptable.

"With the number of new, card-carrying consumers or program members, whatever you want to call them, increasing at an exponential rate, we really need to get our arms around this," he says. "I had a customer tell me that prices at dispensaries have gone up 200 and 300 percent, to the $450 to $600 an ounce range. That's anecdotal, but if that's the case, that's certainly indicative that supply is not meeting demand. And when that happens, sooner or later a dispensary owner somewhere will turn to the open market and purchase illegal marijuana -- and anytime an illegal purchase is made, I'd say it's a 90 percent chance that marijuana came from a drug cartel in Mexico."

At this point, White has no date certain for when he'll formally announce his proposal. Indeed, he can't say for sure if it has the legs to reach that stage. "I'm not on any hot course," he stresses. "I don't want to be premature and rush something into drafting that's ill-thought out and poorly conceived." Nonetheless, he thinks his concept has attributes that shouldn't be rejected out of hand. In his view, "I'm trying to find a way to bring some professionalism and respectability to this program. Wouldn't you think the feds would be interested in a professional and respectable program, as opposed to a melee, a free-for-all?"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts