(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Colorado MMJ caregiver bill clears Senate committee

A state Senate committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would require medical marijuana caregivers to register and allows state agencies to share enough information to ensure pot grown for medicine isn’t sold illegally.

While pot sold for recreational use has been subject to a battery of tests and regulations since it became legal last year, medical marijuana has gone relatively unregulated, requiring only that caregivers be at least 18 years old and have “significant responsibility” for the care of a licensed medical marijuana user.

The regulatory bill was characterized by state agency and law enforcement officials as a benefit to caregivers, because those registered would not have to face arrest or costly legal proceedings if they’re registered with the state.

The bill is supported by the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

Other medical marijuana supporters testified they were concerned about costs from regulations, patient privacy and the risks of untested medical marijuana.

“This bill is really about assisting law enforcement, but it’s doing so at the expense of the rights of patients and caregivers,” said Colorado marijuana activist Robert Chase, who opposed the legislation.

Since 2009, when the U.S. attorney general’s office advised federal agents not to intervene in cases that are compliant with state laws, medical marijuana licenses have exploded in Colorado.

In December 2008 there were 4,819 licensed medical marijuana patients in Colorado, said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. As of last December, there were 115,467 licensed users, said Aguilar, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

But to keep federal regulators out of Colorado’s pot business, the state must regulate it adequately, she said.

“The federal expectation is that states that have allowed marijuana to be legal and local governments will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will protect public safety, public health and law enforcement interests,” she said.

While the average age of a Colorado medical marijuana user is 42 years old, the number of children has increased the past two years on indications pot helps children with seizures and other illnesses. In March 2013, Colorado had 35 patients younger than 18. By last December, the number of minors had grown to 462, Aguilar said.

Sierra Riddle of Colorado Springs said she moved from Utah in 2013 because her son has cancer and needs medical marijuana.

“The amount of children that are increasing on the medical marijuana registry needs to be considered, because it’s only going to increase more,” she said. “These rules and laws need to be put in place to protect our children, to protect their plant count and to protect our rights to grow their plants.”

Joey Bunch: 303-954-1174, jbunch@denverpost.com or twitter.com/joeybunch

This story was first published on DenverPost.com