Drug Policy

Colorado Explicitly Authorizes Marijuana Dispensaries

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Today Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed a law that authorizes government-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. "Primary caregivers," who are allowed to grow cannabis for patients under the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2000, will now be limited to five patients each and generally will be permitted to grow no more than six plants per patient (although exceptions can be made based on medical necessity). Yet the law also allows larger-scale dispensaries to stay open, provided they obtain state and local licenses, grow at least 70 percent of their marijuana, operate at least 1,000 feet from the nearest school, and meet various other requirements. The Marijuana Policy Project says "hundreds" of the state's existing dispensaries will be able to stay in business, although municipalities would be allowed to ban them altogether.

Another bill signed by Ritter today requires that doctors who recommend marijuana have "bona fide" relationships with their patients:

The new law will require doctors to have completed a full assessment of the patient's medical history, to talk with the patient about the medical condition that has caused them to seek marijuana and to be available for follow-up care. The law also prevents doctors from getting paid by dispensaries to write recommendations.

Colorado now joins New Mexico, Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., on the list of jurisdictions that explicitly authorize medical marijuana dispensaries. The new rules eliminate the ambiguity that had allowed the DEA to continue raiding cannabis suppliers despite the Obama administration's policy against prosecuting those who comply with state law. If the DEA raids state-licensed dispensaries in Colorado (or elsewhere), it will be clear that the alleged shift in policy means nothing in practice.

Medical marijuana advocates plan to challenge the provision that permits local governments to ban dispensaries, which in theory could lead to statewide prohibition, contrary to the state constitution's medical marijuana provision.