State health officials want new rules for the Medical Marijuana Registry

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State health officials are calling for a public rule-making committee this fall to iron out details involving the medical marijuana patient registry, including limiting the ability of caregivers to serve more than five patients. In a letter to the Colorado Board of Health earlier this month, Ron Hyman, director of the Medical Marijuana Registry, outlined areas that he says will require a rule-making hearing on September 16.

See also: Marijuana: Welfare cards being used at pot shop ATMs?

According to Hyman, new rules are needed because of SB 155, a bill passed this last session that requires the state to provide grant funding for medical marijuana "health effects studies." Colorado must create guidelines for the grant program, he says, and establish a full-time Scientific Advisory Council to oversee the grants. That committee should be made up of a mix of pro-pot doctors, addiction specialists and general physicians, as well as a lone patient representative.

But in addition to outlining the grant program, Hyman proposes many other rule changes that aren't related to SB 155. The biggest change would be limiting the maximum number of patients to ten that caregivers can serve with a waiver from the state. Currently, caregivers who want to help more than the allowed five patients have to apply for a waiver, and there are no limitations on how large that number can be. According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, there were 4,702 caregivers as of May 1. The majority (99.3 percent) serve five patients or fewer; of the remaining .7 percent, 81 percent serve between six and ten patients. The remaining three were growing for twelve, twenty and seventy patients, respectively, which CDPHE officials claim can be a "public safety concern due to less structured oversight." In short: They figure the caregivers are selling surplus herb out the back door. In addition, Hyman notes, most patients with caregivers are within fifteen miles of a dispensary and are often closer to a storefront than to their own caregiver.

Currently, additional qualifying conditions for the medical marijuana program have to be approved for the board of health by an "ad-hoc medical advisory panel." Hyman is suggesting that the proposed Scientific Advisory Council take over those duties. That move would remove the right of those petitioning for additional conditions to have a doctor of their choice on the committee. Instead, petitioners would file any physician recommendations for adding a condition along with the petition itself, and the decision would be up to the Scientific Advisory Council. Hyman says the move will link medical cannabis research with those who are in charge of adding new conditions.

Another proposed change would deal with the question of who can and can't get on the medical cannabis registry. Currently, state pot laws don't define a "resident," and, as it stands, someone from out-of-state can get a rental property and sign up for a medical card the same day with out-of-state information. Hyman's proposal would call for using the current standard set by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, which means your home in Colorado has to be your primary residence -- and if there's a question as to your residency, you may have to prove it with tax receipts and employment history.

Interestingly, one proposed change would make life easier for patients. Currently, the CDPHE receives nearly 10,000 requests each month from patients who want to change their primary medical marijuana centers. The centers themselves have to report their changes to the Marijuana Enforcement Division. Hyman is proposing eliminating that provision altogether, since the CDPHE doesn't have oversight of medical marijuana centers anyway. That would mean less paperwork, less time and less money spent on notaries and postage for patients wanting to switch centers.

In advance of the September 16 meeting, the CDPHE is asking patients to view the entire proposal and offer input on the CDPHE website.

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