(Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Caregiver patient limits to stay as-is after emotional hearing

DENVER — Confronted with a room full of teary parents with sick children, Colorado health authorities on Tuesday changed course on a plan to limit marijuana caregivers to 10 patients.

The Board of Health voted 6-1 to delete a proposed change to the state rules for caregivers, who are designated to grow pot on behalf of medical marijuana patients.

The change came after hours of emotional testimony from mothers of children with epilepsy and other conditions treated with cannabis-derived oil. Many of the parents testified that they fear losing access to caregiver-grown pot treatments that aren’t available in dispensaries.

“I cannot be one of those dropped. My child will die,” said mom Janea Cox, a mother who moved from Macon, Ga., to Colorado Springs to get a cannabis-based treatment for her daughter Haleigh.

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Colorado currently limits caregivers to five patients and requires them to be responsible for other duties besides just growing pot. But the state allows “waivers” for caregivers to add patients. Only four caregivers would’ve been affected by the rule change, but those growers serve 100 or even more patients. They avoid taxes and regulations required by commercial growers.

“I provide medicine that is needed,” insisted Jason Cranford, a Boulder County caregiver who testified that he spent six years developing a strain to reduce seizures.

Cranford scoffed at suggestions that parents of sick children could learn to grow the strain themselves.

Pointing to the crowd behind him, Cranford asked, “These children are in wheelchairs. Do you not see this? Do you think they have time to sit in a garden?”

Some of the moms applauded when Cranford vowed to ignore the rule if adopted.

“What you’re asking me to do is put children’s blood on my hands and I’m not willing to do that,” he said.

Health authorities insisted they aren’t trying to reduce medical-marijuana supply, just make sure caregivers are complying with state laws regarding their responsibilities to patients.

“We want to change the perception that caregivers do nothing but provide marijuana to their patients,” said Dana Erpelding, director of the department’s Center for Health & Environmental Data.

“Caregivers that want to focus on production and distribution should look at becoming medical marijuana centers,” she said.

But the Board declined to set a hard cap of 10 patients, instead adopting stricter guidelines for getting those waivers to grow on behalf of many patients. The new criteria include proximity to licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Colorado Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, said after the hearing that his agency has limited enforcement powers but wanted to address criticism in a 2013 state audit that criticized the agency for not ensuring that caregivers have proposer supervision.