Medical Marijuana: A Common Sense Policy for Colorado

Marijuana. Most people see it as a recreational drug and are skeptical of its tangible, medical benefits for patients with chronic pain, including those whose use of prescribed narcotics often leaves them vulnerable to addiction.

Take, for instance, the story of Janice Beecher. A Colorado resident since 1968, she suffers from osteoarthritis and chronic back pains. Until recently she had to take up to four oxycodone just to be able to make it through the day. Fortunately for her, she received a permit to use marijuana legally and is now able to live without debilitating pain and able to go days without taking the highly addictive oxycodone. Janice explained to me that "the blessing comes with the knowledge that I can pick what works for me at the dispensary. I don't have to just take what I can get on the black market."

It's cases like Janice's that compel us to come together and make truly common sense policy and regulations for a reasonable market for medical marijuana. The Colorado constitution now allows for the dispensing of medical marijuana, but currently the state does not have the oversight, regulations or authority to properly control the program. We need to propose a model that will not only destigmatize medical marijuana by working to keep it out of the hands of those who would only seek to use it recreationally, but more importantly to create a fair and regulated market that is best for the patients who can benefit immensely from it.

To work out the legislation on the issue, there are a number of interested parties whose concerns must clearly be addressed. First and foremost, we need to address the needs of patients and map out who can write prescriptions and how one can purchase legal marijuana. Further, we need to better think through the regulation of the medical dispensaries, where they can be located and how they should generally operate--after all, we are trying to regulate a medicinal drug, not perpetuate 'head shops.'

Extrapolating on the supply chain of marijuana, we need to enumerate the regulation and oversight of growers: where they can grow and how they can sell to dispensaries. We must also involve law enforcement officials to determine how we can enforce these policies and regulations in practice. Let us not forget the need to also incorporate health providers and caregivers, who will be crucial in determining what uses and services can be fulfilled by medical marijuana.

The details of any policy will be importantly dedicated by rigorous new licensing procedures, specifying how the dispensaries would be subject to regular auditing and reporting requirements. Clearly, there must be a limit on the amount of marijuana produced and sold at any licensed premise. And while there is room for a provision for small, unlicensed cooperatives--comprised of one caregiver and up to two patients--they must adhere to the limits of the law and be registered with the state.

With those considerations in mind, here are some details of the proposed bill. We will eliminate non-medical dispensaries as well as the loopholes through which patients can purchase from multiple dispensaries. Local law enforcement and prosecutors will have bright line rules and more specifics on the criminalization of dispensaries, compensating doctors for prescribing marijuana and the punishment for illegally reselling medical marijuana. Much like liquor sales, it will be up to local governments to license and regulate the dispensaries. Additionally, to facilitate patient access to medical marijuana, licensed chiropractors, physical therapists, optometrists and nurses who register as caregivers will have the ability to treat up to 25% of their annual patients with medical marijuana without a license.

We would be the first state in the nation to create a patient-focused model, and would thus become a national leader forging the way towards successful regulation and dispensing of medical marijuana. There are many interested parties coming together to craft this policy, but as long as we focus on helping patients like Janice Beecher while appropriately regulating the market I have no doubt that we can creatively and successfully formulate a common sense policy that works for Colorado.