September 3, 2010
Amendment 20 was passed by Colorado voters in 2000. It calls for the use of Medical Marijuana (MMJ) by individuals with “debilitating medical conditions” who have received an MMJ card through the state Health Department. It was designed to deliver the drug through a caregiver model allowing a caregiver to provide MMJ to a very limited number of patients. It also allows for a patient to grow his or her own personal supply of MMJ.
For years, this model worked well and provided MMJ for up to 4,000 patients statewide. In 2008 however, the Obama administration declared that, within states with MMJ laws, there would no longer be any federal enforcement of marijuana laws. Add to this an appellate court decision that essentially said that the omission of a definition or even mention of dispensaries within Amendment 20 meant that they must be legal, and suddenly the number of MMJ card applications skyrocketed. Also skyrocketing over the past two years is the number of dispensaries, large scale grow operations and infused products operations.
After months of work, HB 1284 was passed and gave local governments the ability to deal with this proliferation within their own communities.
I want to strongly emphasize that the authority we were given, does not include any limitation of access to MMJ through the caregiver model. That access is constitutionally protected, and as constitutional officers we will protect that access.
The truth of what we face today is a debate over the legalization of marijuana. This dispensary issue is defined by money, not medicine. As admitted to repeatedly by the advocates of the dispensaries, the goal is legalized marijuana. Our Libertarian friends, like Jeff Wright in a letter to the editor on Aug. 31, Councilman Sean Paige and Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen believe in legalization of marijuana. I fully support their right to argue that position and it is a valid discussion to have, as long as we are honest about it.
However, in 2006, the voters of Colorado clarified their intentions regarding marijuana by overwhelmingly defeating Amendment 44, which would have legalized just an ounce of marijuana. Through this, the people made clear their intention to allow MMJ for only those with “debilitating medical conditions” under the caregiver model and not for legalized marijuana. And yet today, we have over 450 MMJ operations throughout El Paso County with more and more being prepared for operation.
The advocates for dispensary proliferation believe that any limitation of this legalization trend constitutes an attack on their constitutional rights and that we, as elected officials have no right to consider limitation. Yet they forget that MMJ access under Amendment 20 is a separate issue from dispensaries, grows and infusions. They also forget that we represent all citizens of this county and that a majority of people, at least those contacting my office, are calling for this activity to cease.
The two factors which have consistently been shown to increase usage of this drug are access and acceptability, especially among youths. Combine these with concerns about crime, increased costs to social services, and public-safety services, and you have a snapshot of the reasons people are demanding that their voices be heard.
This issue originated on the ballot in 2000 with a slim majority of Colorado voters approving medical marijuana under a caregiver model. It was further defined on the statewide ballot in 2006 when voters overwhelmingly opposed the legalization of even an ounce of marijuana. What better solution to the current controversy then, but to go back to the ballot and ask the people to finally clarify their intent?
If the people say no to the ban question, we will regulate the operations through licensing and land use and control their proliferation within the county. If the people say yes to the ban, then we will go back to the caregiver model defined by Amendment 20.
I serve and trust you, the people of El Paso County. I will defer to your direction and desires for our great county.
Lathen is the El Paso County Commissioner for District 2. E-mail Lathen at AmyLathen@elpasoco.com.