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Longmont, State Struggle to Figure Out Medical Marijuana Shops, Rules

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LONGMONT – When medical marijuana dispensaries started popping up all over Colorado a couple of years ago, it caught state regulators and law enforcement off-guard.

Local and state governmental agencies have been working to answer questions and regulate the businesses that have sprung up around dispensing medical marijuana, which voters approved through Amendment 20 in 2000.

Last week, for example, the state Board of Health adopted rules to require doctors to physically examine patients before recommending marijuana – but state health authorities on Wednesday decided against stricter rules, such as a ban on marijuana specialists, according to the Associated Press.

The board also decided against a ban on mobile pot docs. Some wanted to see a crackdown on "marijuana mills" in which traveling vans offer marijuana recommendations at festivals and concerts, but others pointed out that mobile physicians provide important care in rural areas.

But many holes still exist in regulating the medical marijuana industry, as some Longmont businesses can attest to.

According to Jamie Hunter – owner of High Society at 608 Ninth Ave., which sells pipes and smoking accessories but not medical marijuana – customers often wander in thinking the store is a medical marijuana dispensary.

"I'm sending them to other spots," he said. "We're always running out of cards. A lot of people come in asking about doctors."

One of Hunter's concerns is that there is no way to monitor who is getting how much marijuana in a given day.

According to Todd – the owner of Medical Marijuana LLC, a Colorado business that specializes in helping people obtain medical marijuana cards – once patients have a card, they can visit a dispensary and buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana.

"Currently, they can buy 2 ounces at that dispensary, and theoretically, they probably could go to another dispensary and get 2 more ounces, but that puts them in a legal situation because the legal limit is 2 ounces," said Todd, who declined to give his last name because he is associated with other businesses.

Sgt. Sean Harper of the Longmont Police Department's Special Enforcement Unit said one marijuana cigarette uses a gram of pot. There are 28 grams in an ounce. So 2 ounces would provide 56 cigarettes.

Julie Postlethwait, public information officer for the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue, acknowledged that under current rules, patients can visit multiple dispensaries in one day and take their chances on getting caught with more than 2 ounces in their possession.

She said the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division was created last year and came into being July 1.

The division has drafted regulations and put them out for public comment. That comment period is almost at an end. New regulations were adopted March 10 by the state licensing authority and are undergoing a 20-day legal review by the office of legislative legal services.

The new proposed regulations can be viewed at Department of Revenue - Enforcement Group:Medical Marijuana.

Hunter said he would favor a proposed tracking system that would use barcode scanners, allowing dispensaries to keep track of the patients who come in.

Postlethwait said such a system, which would put a barcode on a patient's prescription card, could run afoul of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules.

"Patients and caregivers would still be under the department of health, and there are many confidentiality issues with monitoring there," she said.

The newest set of regulations includes using video cameras to keep track of patients. The new regulations would require video surveillance with good camera angles at all dispensaries.

"The cameras would be set up so there is no place in the shop that is not covered by some camera angle," Postlethwait said. "We want to be able to track from seed to sell."

Dispensaries would have to keep 20 days of 24-hour surveillance on-site and the previous 20 days off-site, she said. Videos would be watched only by enforcement officers if there are complaints. Those complaints could be anything from somebody getting too many prescriptions to a patient who claims he bought 2 ounces and got only 1 ounce.

"Nothing has been written in law though," Todd said.

It is this lack of law that has caused law enforcement agencies to be wary when dealing with dispensaries and patients.

Detective Darren Bloom of the Longmont Police Department said medical marijuana purchase "is a very gray area."

Because patients have a constitutional right to their marijuana, police focus mainly on finding those who are unlawfully obtaining the drug.

"If they don't have the right paperwork, we're going to cite them on the municipal level," he said. This entails giving out possession-of-marijuana tickets.

Card holder Matthew Welch said the process for buying medical marijuana has become more uniform, even as the rules continue to evolve.

"Now on every visit, patients are required to show ID, show their medical marijuana card and sign in as well," he said.

Welch, 22, received his medical marijuana card for severe acid reflux, which prevents him from consuming chocolate, spicy foods, tomato-based products, carbonated beverages or anything with caffeine.

"Not only does medical marijuana help overcome the heartburn; it helps with the nausea and loss of appetite attributed to GERD (gastroesophegeal reflux disease)," he said.

Longmont patients currently are served by seven dispensaries.

The city has had a moratorium on new dispensaries in place since October 2009.

According to city planner Ben Ortiz, the latest moratorium is in effect until the end of June.

"We've had a lot of inquiries and requests, but the original seven that were given sales and use tax licenses were the only ones we considered approving," Ortiz said.

City Council members have discussed an outright ban on all dispensaries, and in February. the council voted 6-1 to prepare an ordinance banning dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related businesses. The council must vote on such an ordinance twice before it would go into effect.

In the end, the state and communities still have to decide how best to regulate – or ban – what has become a legal industry in Colorado.

"We really put a lot of effort to produce the highest-quality rules that meet the needs of all stakeholders," Postlethwait said. "When considering regulations, we do consider 'That's great, but how do we enforce it?' We want to create a strong business that is able to protect its patients."

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: timescall.com
Author: Kirstin Le Grice
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: Longmont Times-Call
Website: Longmont, State Struggle to Figure Out Medical Marijuana Shops, Rules
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