DENVER – State lawmakers on Wednesday recommended introducing legislation that aims to crack down on the medical marijuana system.
The Marijuana Revenues Interim Committee voted to introduce a bill that would address the caregiver system, as well as another measure that would clarify that local governments are authorized to collect taxes on recreational marijuana.
The proposed measures head to Legislative Council for a vote before being formally introduced for the upcoming legislative session in January.
The caregiver component has been the most controversial. Proposed by Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, the bill would require all primary caregivers to register with the state.
Law-enforcement, health and revenue officials have grown concerned about an inability to track the caregiver-patient system, said Pace, a Fort Lewis College graduate. Fears have grown that the system is empowering the black market.
There also are concerns because medical marijuana is taxed at a lower rate than recreational cannabis. A spike in the medical marijuana registry means the state is collecting less revenue.
“There are a significant number of folks purporting to be caregivers in the medical marijuana industry who are not, but we do not have the tracking system in place to enforce that,” Pace said.
The bill would have far-reaching impacts, including imposing penalties for not registering.
Lawmakers struck new criminal provisions. But failure to register would result in being prohibited from ever acting as a legal caregiver. Criminal charges also could apply under existing law.
The bill would limit caregivers to growing six plants for each patient. Health officials would be required to verify all “extended plant counts” approved for patients, or grows of more than six plants.
Amendment 20, passed by voters in 2000, allowed for patients with debilitating conditions to grow more than six plants based on a doctor’s recommendation.
The legislation also would limit each patient to one caregiver and allow the state to share information to ensure that a patient has only one caregiver and isn’t doubling up with a caregiver and a dispensary.
Lawmakers also recommended clarifying “severe pain” in the Medical Practice Act. Pain is the most common claim for medical marijuana registration.
Finally, the bill would offer immunity to law enforcement if they destroy illegal plants.
But already the patient and caregiver communities are grumbling.
Samantha Walsh, with the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, which includes caregivers, said it is odd that a committee charged with addressing revenue issues would tackle medical marijuana laws.
“This is a committee to deal with tax revenue and not necessarily caregiver bills,” Walsh said during public testimony. “There is a dearth of representation for caregivers and patients right now at the table.”