Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, speaks on opening day of the 2015 Colorado Legislative session at the Capitol on Jan. 7, 2015. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

Colorado Senate gives prelim OK on marijuana caregiver crackdown

There’s good news and bad news for Colorado’s medical marijuana caregivers in a bill that got initial approval from the state Senate on Tuesday.

First, the good news: Senate Bill 14 would convene a “stakeholder group” to address options for laboratory testing for medical marijuana, something patients and growers have been asking for. There isn’t enough lab capacity now to serve the fast-growing industry in Colorado, since recreational marijuana became legal last year. The bill also calls for creating rules to tell patients about potency and any possible contaminants that might be stewing in their pot.

The bad news, at least for caregivers, is they would have to register with the state, so authorities can keep closer tabs on how much each caregiver can legally grow, as well as provide record-keeping that respects patient privacy.

That’s good news, if you think about it, for law enforcement, which has a tough time figuring out who is a legal caregiver and how much that person can grow based on the number of patients they have. Currently state law requires only that a caregiver is 18 years old and has the primary responsibility for a patient’s care.

In February, the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill to put more regulations on caregivers.

“Our caregivers system is being abused across Colorado as a means of avoiding proper licenses or abiding by the same regulations as the rest of the cannabis industry,” Tyler Henson, the president of the chamber, said back then.

Senate Democrats said Tuesday afternoon the bill is about a balance between patients’ needs and public safety.

“Speaking as both a physician and a lawmaker, I know there is a need for patients who are in pain to get their medicine, and there is also a need to make sure medical marijuana in Colorado isn’t feeding the black market in other states,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. “I believe this bill provides a balanced approach to help guide what is still a relatively new industry in Colorado. We have received a great deal of input from many people on this issue, and I’d like to thank everyone who offered ideas and made this a better bill.”

The legislation also is important because the Justice Department has said it won’t stick its nose in the business of states with legalized marijuana, as long as those states demonstrate they’re doing all they can to keep its legal weed out of the illicit drug trade.

The bill still has to pass on a roll-call vote in the Senate within the next few days, before it can bounce to the House, where it’s is sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

Here is the summary of Senate Bill 14:

The bill requires the Colorado medical board to adopt rules regarding guidelines for physicians who make medical marijuana recommendations for patients suffering from severe pain.

The bill requires the state health agency to adopt rules regarding guidelines for primary caregivers to give informed consent to patients that the products they cultivate or produce may contain contaminants and that the THC levels are not verified.

The bill requires all primary caregivers to register with the state health agency and the state medical marijuana licensing authority (licensing authority). Any primary caregiver who is not registered shall register within 10 days of being informed of the duty to register. If a
person fails to register after such 10 days, the state health agency and licensing authority shall prohibit the person from ever registering and acting as a primary caregiver.

The bill requires the licensing authority and the state health agency to share the minimum amount of information necessary to ensure that a medical marijuana patient has only one caregiver and is not using a primary caregiver and a medical marijuana center.

The bill permits moneys in the marijuana tax fund to be used to fund the implementation of any bills approved by the marijuana revenues interim committee.

This story was first published on The Spot blog.