Medical marijuana proposal alarms Colorado advocates

Medical marijuana advocates fear a proposed policy from the Colorado Medical Board will send their industry up in smoke.

Among other things, the policy suggests that doctors who recommend marijuana become competent in the area of pain treatment, keep extensive records on their patients and advise them of the risks, including death.

It also suggests that “pregnancy testing during the initial evaluation should be considered for all women of child-bearing age.”

DOCUMENT: View the proposed draft policy for doctors

The list of proposed recommendations has already drawn about 250 public comments to the state, fueled speculation that Colorado is trying to drive pain sufferers into the taxable arena of recreational marijuana and generated some alarmed press-release headlines.

“Is Colorado Trying To Shut Down The Medical Marijuana Program?” one asked.

A state regulatory official offered assurances Thursday that no such outcome is intended.

“This is just very much guidance to licensed physicians who are considering making medical marijuana recommendations,” said Cory Everett, chief of staff at the Division of Professions and Occupations. “It’s adopting guidance, it’s adopting a policy. It’s not statute or a rule.”

Everett emphasized that a state law required the board to establish some guidance for doctors in a burgeoning industry and that none of the policy recommendations are set in stone. The state is accepting public comments through Friday, she said, and the medical board will review them before making any decisions at a November meeting.

The comments, mostly negative, are piling up quickly from “many patients and people in the industry,” Everett said.

In Colorado Springs, about 2,000 patients visit the Vibrant Health Clinic yearly. Owner Jessica Hogan fears the proposed policy will drive her out of business.

Its doctor is a pathologist, and “we wouldn’t be able to see patients here if they want a pain management doctor to do the evaluation,” she said.

About 106,000 people in Colorado carry medical marijuana cards, and “if we can’t renew their cards, they’re going to grow their own, go to the underground market or go to the recreational stores,” Hogan said. “Some people are reading this saying, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal.’ It is a big deal.”

The draft language recommends a patient evaluation that includes a physical examination; a risk assessment for drug abuse; a pain assessment covering the pattern, duration and past and current treatments; lab testing as necessary; possible urine screens and consultations with the patient’s other doctors — and 14 categories of documentation.

But “nothing’s been decided yet,” Everett said. “The board may adopt the policy, may amend it or may send it out for more comments.”

David Olinger: 303-954-1498, dolinger@denverpost.com or @dolingerdp

CONTACT: Information on submitting public comment

This story was first published on DenverPost.com