Senator Chris Romer has been working on medical marijuana legislation for many weeks -- and he's clearly grown frustrated with the chore. On Saturday, he published an essay in the Huffington Post declaring that "my attempts to bring medical marijuana out of the shadows through a complex regulatory structure are now over" because "significant portions of law enforcement and the MMJ community" have proven unwilling to compromise.
As such, he's ditching most of his bill (read an early December draft here) in favor of a streamlined proposal focusing on "the need for a meaningful doctor-patient relationship to get a MMJ referral and the creation of a 24-hour per day registry for patients." But he warns that another bill will also be introduced -- one that would enforce a sheriffs-association-backed five-patients-per-caregiver cap that would essentially outlaw the dispensary business in Colorado.
Romer places much of the blame for this turn of events on the intractability of the medical marijuana community.
"It's a new industry, and I'm not blaming them for being a little naive about the legislative process," he says. "But as a famous general said, 'There's nothing so keen to focus the mind as a bullet fired near your head.'
"Maybe this sheriff's bill will finally wake up the medical marijuana community, and let them know they need to act like an adult and compromise on things like patients under the age of 21," he continues. "Because if they don't, law enforcement will be able to turn the clock back to where it was a year ago."
A policy analyst for Senate Democrats created a side-by-side comparison of Romer's proposal, described as the "Regulatory Model Bill," and the measure preferred by law enforcement; read it here. Note that while both are said to establish a cap for caregivers of no more than five patients, Romer's measure would have sanctioned dispensaries serving up to 1,500 patients. In contrast, the law enforcement model prohibits them entirely -- which, in Romer's view, is an approach that would have a tremendously negative economic impact, beginning with job losses in the booming medical marijuana industry.
"Our first job is to put people back to work," he says. "The tragedy is, we could end up putting 10,000 people out of work because law enforcement and the medical marijuana community can't find common ground."
Nonetheless, Romer says he had little luck lining up legislative support for his measure's most recent incarnation. According to him, the only people for it were him and the person who helped him draft it -- and the latter doesn't have a vote.
That's not to say all of the lawmakers with whom he spoke were dead set against keeping dispensaries in the mix. "There was significant empathy and desire for clinics," he says. "But to be candid, both the House and the Senate have lost total confidence that the medical marijuana industry can act like a mature industry -- that they can act competently throughout what's going to be a very complex process."
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Romer emphasizes that "I will not vote for a bill that has a law enforcement five-patients-per-caregiver cap without clinics. But the role of those clinics and their existence at all is a debate that's building." In addition, "there is a security issue that needs to be fixed, and we need to deal with the proliferation of dispensaries in certain neighborhoods and the issue of patients under age 21."
He believes "the medical marijuana community needs to negotiate on those fronts" every bit as much as "law enforcement has to get over their opposition to physical locations." If that doesn't happen, dispensaries could be nixed in final legislation -- "and then, the only option is to go to the ballot to legalize -- and maybe that's what we need to do."
In the meantime, "We are really going to go after doctor fraud. That's going to happen very fast, during the first week of the session -- and that buys us a little time to find common ground. A small amount: two to three weeks."
If the two sides don't take advantage of this opportunity? Romer refers to Janice Beecher, a medical marijuana patient he cites by name in his HuffPo essay. "Janice will be back in parking lots buying black-market weed," he says.