Colorado Legislature Passes Caregiver Reform Bill

After more than a year of legislative struggle, the Colorado legislature has finally passed a bill aimed at reforming the state’s loosely regulated medical marijuana caregiver system.

Proponents of SB 14 believe that it will add more structure and security to a system with little oversight, and those opposed to the measure believe that it will disrupt the lives of patients and limit access to medical marijuana.

Under SB 14, state health agencies will be required to share the minimum amount of information necessary to verify that patients only have one medical marijuana caregiver and are not using a medical marijuana center as well.

The bill also authorizes the state to use money out of the marijuana tax fund to pay for any costs associated with implementing the bill.

Colorado caregivers will be required to register with the state. If caregivers are not registered, they have to register within 10 days of being informed of their responsibility. They will also be required to give informed consent to patients that the marijuana is untested and as such cannot confirm THC or contaminant levels.

Caregivers will be limited to growing up to 36 plants, or six plants per patient. Under extreme circumstances, caregivers can grow up to 99 plants but no more than that.

The reason why the state has placed a hard cap on caregivers is to prevent abuses in the caregiver system that has gone unchecked. Back in March of this year, federal authorities busted a multi-million dollar marijuana smuggling ring that was operating under the guise of a caregiver garden.

While registering with the state and capping the number of marijuana plants grown will not completely fix the problem, the hope is that SB 14 will make it easier to find and bust illegal grow operations.

A less controversial amendment in the bill would allow children suffering from epilepsy, cerebral palsy and seizures to use low-thc medical marijuana at school. The inspiration for the amendment was 14-year-old Jack Splitt, who caused controversy at his middle school when his personal nurse gave him a medical marijuana patch on school grounds.

“We allow children to take all sorts of psychotropic medications, whether it’s Ritalin or opiate painkillers, under supervised circumstances. We should do the same here,” Rep. Jonathan Singer told his colleagues in committee. Singer was the one who sponsored the amendment after hearing about Jack Splitt’s story.

With overwhelming support in the House and unanimous approval in the Senate, SB 14 has been given the green light and is expected to hit Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk in the coming days.

If Hickenlooper signs the bill, it could start an avalanche of lawsuits from Colorado caregivers. Jason Warf, executive director of Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, told The Gazette  in April that lawmakers would probably be faced with a lawsuit if the bill passes.

Now that the bill has passed, many are wondering if SB 14 will be challenged in court. We spoke with Warf to find out his reaction to the bill passage and whether or not his organization will take legal action against the measure.

“There are a couple of big problems with the bill. The information is reported to the ‘criminal database,’ which we take issue with. The information is further shared with the federal government when ‘applicable’ and in our mind it’s never applicable,” Warf explained. “On those two issues the patients and caregivers are looking at legal action. We’ll do whatever they need us to do.”

Warf went on to say that even the seemingly positive Jack’s Amendment is flawed in scope. Although the amendment’s goal is to allow children to use medical marijuana in school, the provision merely gives schools the authority to allow or ban the medicine; and according to Warf, “… [from]what we have seen so far is that it is a no-go [with schools].”

It is too early to accurately predict how exacly SB 14 would impact the medical marijuana system in Colorado. Despite such uncertainty it is not too unreasonable to assume that litigation, either on behalf of Warf’s orgazantion or others, will soon slow this bill’s enactment, for better or worse.

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