State auditors say that only a dozen Colorado doctors issued half of the medical marijuana patient recommendations in the state -- a sign that the state is not providing enough oversight of the medical marijuana industry.
The audit reveals that in 2009 there were only 6,000 medical marijuana patients in Colorado -- as of March 2013, there are 108,000 patients. And as of 2012, 903 Colorado doctors recommended medical marijuana "red cards" for those 108,000 patients, but only 12 of those doctors issued 50 percent of those recommendations, AP reporter Ivan Moreno points out.
The 102-page report released Monday is a sharp criticism of the job that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has been doing as regulators. It's the second criticism of the state's job of regulating the medical marijuana industry this year -- in March, another audit accused the Department of Revenue of spending its budget on cars and furniture rather than enforcing marijuana rules, The Denver Post reports.
This new audit accuses the health department of not sufficiently overseeing doctors who give out the recommendations to patients -- the way way a patient can get medical marijuana.
Some Colorado doctors also appear to have recommended what seems to be excessive amounts of marijuana to some patients -- one patient received a recommendation for 501 marijuana plants while another patient got a referral for 75 ounces of pot.
Auditors also said that the Department of Public Health and Environment has not referred a doctor to the Colorado Medical Board for investigation since January 2011.
Marijuana caregivers were also not given proper oversight from the health department, the audit claims. "Public Health has not established a process for caregivers to indicate the significant responsibilities they are assuming for managing the well-being of their patients or for documenting exceptional circumstances that require a caregiver to take on more than five patients," the auditors wrote.
With the passage of Amendment 64 last November, recreational marijuana is now legal for all adults 21 and over in the state, and while Colorado still maintains a medical marijuana patient registry it is expected to shrink considerably once recreational weed goes on sale beginning in 2014.
Some of the patient standards may need changing too, auditors point out, such as requiring patients to designate a single dispensary as their sole medical marijuana provider.
“A new approach may be warranted for ensuring that marijuana providers are not producing more marijuana than is needed by patients with legitimate medical needs,” auditors wrote in the report. “The requirement for patients to affiliate with dispensaries may no longer make sense with the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
Auditors also say that the health department failed to issue red cards within the constitutionally required 35-day timeline for more than one-third of valid patients as of December 2012. However, the report also points out that as of March 2013, that process has improved -- now 99 percent of applications are processed within the 35-day window.
The audit also accused the health department of charging too much in patient application fees. "We found that Public Health has set its application fee too high," auditors wrote in. "As a result, the cash fund balance has grown to
a level that far exceeds the program’s needs and the uncommitted reserve limit established in statute."
Auditors say that they found the patient registry incurred direct and indirect costs of between $12 and $21 per red card processed between 2010 and 2012 -- however, the $90 fee charged at the time (2007-2011) significantly exceeded those costs. More recently (2012-present), fees have been reduced and patients are charged $35, but the auditors point out that medical marijuana cash fund has been out of compliance with the statutory limit since 2004 and as of 2012 has amassed more than $11.3 million in uncommitted cash reserves. Additionally, uncommitted cash reserves in the fund have sharply increased during the last three years.
The Department of Public Health and Environment generally agreed with all of the recommendations from the auditors' report and are already taking steps to rectify the issues.