Several months ago the very first email I received after I announced my intention to carry a medical marijuana bill was from Janice Beecher. Little did I know how spot on her prediction would be. She pleaded:
Good Morning Senator Romer,
I am alarmed by the ease in which I obtained my permit and would love to see some defined laws set down that put some controls on the whole process, as I am afraid that it's spiraling out of control. I am equally alarmed at the prospect of the dispensaries going up in places where they don't belong simply because there are no good regulations in place.
I can see this giving the medical marijuana community a black eye, as some of our fellow citizens are more concerned with the almighty dollar than the safety and comfort of their neighbors when they choose to dispense in places where a liquor store couldn't get a license for various reasons, forcing the hand of the law to regulate.
I have rarely gotten involved with anything in my community for years, but I feel this is something that we all need to help along to make sure that it's a workable plan for everyone because the benefits of medical marijuana for so many people...well we can't just let it slip backwards at this point.
Thanks so much for your time
A Colorado resident since 1968, Janice suffers from osteoarthritis and chronic back pain. Until recently she had to take up to four oxycodone just to be able to make it through the day. Fortunately for her, she received a permit to use marijuana legally and is now able to live without debilitating pain and able to go days without taking the highly addictive oxycodone. Janice explained to me "the blessing comes with the knowledge that I can pick what works for me at the dispensary. I don't have to just take what I can get on the black market."
Sadly for Janice--and thousands of patients like her--access to sophisticated care is being jeopardized because both sides in this debate cannot seem to grasp the importance of finding common ground. Having tried my best to urge the medical marijuana community to educate the public on patient needs, we instead find ourselves in a situation in which the Wild West explosion of dispensaries and the outbreak of greed has become the public face of this debate. Public backlash has manifested across the state, including in friendly cities like Denver. From Lodo to Stapleton to West Denver, neighborhoods are now organizing and opposing all dispensaries. My own neighbors are up in arms with the 31 dispensaries now licensed in our zip code.
Without a patient face like Janice Beecher or an effective lobbying and education campaign by the MMJ community, I see more and more obstacles to any editorial, bi-partisan or even limited partisan support for a set of common sense rules.
So my attempts to bring medical marijuana out of the shadows through a complex regulatory structure are now over. Significant portions of law enforcement and the MMJ community are at this point unwilling to find common ground. Both sides are stuck and focused on their narrow needs and wants after a 30-year battle on the war on drugs. Medical cases like Janice's compel us to come together and make truly common sense policy and regulations for a reasonable market for medical marijuana. We need to propose a model that will not only destigmatize medical marijuana by working to keep it out of the hands of those who would only seek to use it recreationally, but more importantly to create a fair and regulated market that is best for the patients who can benefit immensely from it.
So where do we go from here? In order to buy a few weeks for Janice and others to mobilize, we now will divide the legislation into two bills. The first bill, which I will sponsor in the Colorado Senate, will deal solely with 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. This is the one part of the bill that most reasonable people can agree on.
The second bill dealing with dispensaries and growing operations will start in the House and most likely will be very similar to the Sheriff Association's proposed legislation, including a five patient cap per caregiver. I will continue to fight for clinics to serve patients like Janice, but I am getting increasingly skeptical that either side understands her needs.
What a shame. We really could have set the national model for medical marijuana including research and sophisticated evidence-based medicine, but the same old fight on both sides--and the failed status quo--appears to have prevailed.
I am sorry Janice. The black eye has happened. Some members of law enforcement seem to not believe or truly care about your pain or the pain and suffering of thousands of patients just like you, many of whom are afraid to speak out. It is the dispensaries versus law enforcement and neither seems to have the time or inclination to care.
Are there any more patients willing to go public? Are there any law enforcement officers in Colorado willing to admit that patients like Janice will be forced back into the black market? Time is running out and the legislative session begins next week.
Follow Chris Romer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/romerformayor