04/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Colorado Medical Marijuana: Legislature Introduces Restrictive Bill As Industry Promises Ballot Measure

The battle over medical marijuana (MMJ) in Colorado heated up Wednesday as lawmakers introduced legislation that significantly alters the existing medical marijuana system in the state.

The bill, introduced by Senator Chris Romer (D) and Representative Tom Massey (R) would allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to stay open ad, provided they reorganize as non-profits under state law. The bill also prohibits on-site consumption of marijuana, places limitations on advertising, and allows towns to ban facilities all together.

The bill is the final product of weeks of negotiations between law enforcement groups, which have long favored killing the dispensary system by capping the number customers an establishment can serve, and MMJ advocates, which have varied in the amount of regulation they are willing to support.

Initial reactions from MMJ supporters have argued that the bill makes it too difficult for patients to obtain marijuana.

Earlier today, Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, a medical marijuana advocacy group, announced Wednesday morning that he would be submitting a proposed ballot initiative to the state that would allow the people to vote directly on regulations.

"State-licensed medical marijuana patients need storefront dispensaries in the same way that other sick Coloradans need pharmacies," Vicente told the Denver Post.

The legislation introduced Wednesday is the second medical marijuana bill to enter the legislature this session. This first, which cleared the Senate on Monday, set guidelines for doctor-patient relationships.

Legalized by a ballot initiative in 2000, medical marijuana became controversial in Colorado after the Department of Justice announced in 2009 that it would not investigate marijuana facilities that complied with state laws in states where medical marijuana was legal. Since that time, dispensaries have cropped up throughout the state, and many municipalities have acted to regulate or even ban the institutions within their borders.

The uncertain legal situation surrounding medical marijuana, combined with the sudden growth in the number of dispensaries and the concern that the medical marijuana system was being abused by recreational drug-seekers compelled the legislature to act.