Senator Chris Romer's medical-marijuana ideas put many dispensaries -- and younger patients -- in the crosshairs

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Earlier today, we told you about a Boulder Daily Camera article in which Senator Chris Romer predicted that half the dispensaries in the state would go out of business if some of the ideas he has for legislation become law next year -- speculation that fired up the folks at the Cannabis Therapy Institute.

In a subsequent conversation, Romer laid out more details, and while he made it clear that the proposed measure remains very much a work in progress, he believes his proposals will provide a way to get a handle on the runaway medical-marijuana industry.

"If you're a retail dispensary, this bill is probably not good news for you," he admits. "But if you're a patient, this bill is great news for you" -- although not necessarily if you're under 25.

This week, Romer plans to begin the process of drafting a bill, following "meetings with law enforcement, substance-abuse professionals, dispensaries and current business people."

In his view, "We need to come to a community consensus on this issue. That's what legislatures do. People on the far left and the far right may want to push this underground or pass de facto legalization. But the legislative process is often a series of compromises that affect community opinion -- and the medical-marijuana community isn't the only stakeholder here.

"Lots of suburban parents are horrified when they drive their fifteen-year-old, who they want to keep focused on high school, down Broadway past Dr. Reefer. And they'll have a say about this as well."

According to Romer, he spoke to the Camera in order to reach students at the University of Colorado, among others. His goal: to shine a spotlight on his thoughts concerning the creation of "a medical review board for those under the age of 25." He doubts that marijuana is medically necessary for a lot of younger people who've managed to get a doctor's approval for obtaining it. As he puts it, "There's some evidence of abuse in that age category when you correlate the statistics about conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana and then cross-correlate that data with those under 25."

He'd like to "tighten up the requirements to get approval to receive medical marijuana. I'd like the initial review to include a full physical, and then that diagnosis would be sent to a second review board for their concurrence."

In the Camera piece, Romer encouraged students and other young people to contact him at his e-mail address -- sen.romer@gmail.com -- and let him know their thoughts about this proposal. Thus far, he hasn't been inundated with replies. But several of those that have come in "said their issue is age discrimination." He doesn't see that as a problem for people with legitimate medical conditions, however.

"If a patient has cancer or multiple sclerosis, that's not going to be particularly hard to document in a physical review," he maintains. "But 90 percent of the people who come in under the category of 'chronic pain,' we'll go through a little more due diligence. Those who really do have chronic pain will make it through the system, and those who are abusing the system will not.

"A lot of people have said, 'Why not crack down on doctors writing phony referrals?'" he goes on. "And we'll up that system as well, because I'm trying to legitimize the medical treatment -- bring in more healthcare people, who'll make it easier for doctors to write referrals."

In Romer's view, this last concept will be among the proposal's most important. Caregivers with two or fewer patients won't have to be licensed by the state. But enterprises with over that number will have to prove that they're doing more than simply supplying marijuana to patients -- a notion at the center of a recent Colorado Court of Appeals case in the matter of caregiver Stacy Clendenin. This will give an immediate leg up to wellness centers and other operations that could use medical-marijuana as part of comprehensive treatment.

"To me, the biggest news in this bill is the ability to allow chiropractors, physical therapists, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists and other health professionals to begin prescribing medical marijuana immediately without getting a state license -- because they're already licensed by the state," he says. "And they'd be able to prescribe it to 10 to 20 percent of their patient base. So if I'm a chiropractor and I have 500 total patients, then I would have the ability to treat up to 100 people in my clinic.

"That would immediately create tremendous competition, allowing access and affordability to improve. These are highly trained professionals, and all of them treat this category of diseases. They will provide better quality care when they're prescribing medical marijuana as part of a complete nutritional and medical plan."

As for those people "who set up a clinic with a pool table and video games," Romer says, "that model isn't going to fly -- and I don't think they're going to be around in six months."

Some medical-marijuana advocates "are more interested in protecting the dispensaries than the patients," he believes. "And I'm fighting for the patients. Every business that opened up did so without clear state or local law, and I think what I'm proposing will significantly increase competition and lower prices. There'll be a period where people will be allowed to apply for a license and change their business model. But people who only want to run a retail model aren't going to be at the table.

"I've come across dispensaries and caregivers who I think provide fantastic care for their patients," Romer emphasizes. "But I've also come across dispensaries that resemble frat houses, not clinics. I don't know if 50 percent or more are in the frat house mode, but those in the clinical mode will survive, and those in the frat-house mode will go out of business -- and the sooner, the better. And for people who really need medical marijuana, that's a good thing."

Romer notes that plenty of communities are heading down the same path as he is, including Denver, whose city council is expected to consider a plan being assembled by member Charlie Brown on Wednesday. He says he'll be at that meeting, "to give them a sense of where I'm going."

This process will take until well into 2010 to wrap up, at least at the state level. At the end of it, Romer says, "I'll know I've done a good job if there are people who'll be relatively grumpy on both sides, but we've got a good system that will stand the test of time -- one that licenses both caregivers and growers in a way that helps make Amendment 20 really work."

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