Updated: December 7, 2010 at 12:00 am
DENVER — About 2 percent of Colorado residents now have cards to buy medical marijuana.
The state health department said Tuesday it came up with the figure while clearing a backlog of pot applications.
Officials said the number of medical marijuana users now totals about 116,000 — more than the population of Pueblo.
Clearing the backlog means people who apply for medical marijuana cards will know within the 35 days required by law whether their applications have been approved, said Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
For months, the backlog was so large that applicants were allowed to buy pot as long as they could prove they had applied. That left thousands of people able to shop at marijuana dispensaries before recommendations from their doctors were reviewed.
Temporary workers were hired to clear the backlog.
Applicants must show they are Colorado residents and attach a form from a doctor stating they suffer from an ailment that qualifies them for use medical pot such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma or chronic pain, the most common ailment cited.
Applications cost $90 a year, unless patients meet poverty guidelines.
"It's great news that things are going to be moving smoother," said Mason Tvert, head of SAFER Colorado, which advocates for full legalization of marijuana, even for recreational use. The name of the group stands for Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation.
The health department still has work to do regarding medical marijuana.
A state law that took effect earlier this year requires health authorities to clarify how it's determined that a caregiver has "significant responsibility" for a patient.
The change is designed to cut down on sham designations in which a caregiver does nothing more than sell pot to a patient.
A task force of doctors, regulators and law enforcement officials is set to meet Wednesday to start work on that clarification.
The group also must resolve the question of which doctors should be allowed to recommend pot, and adopt a procedure for adding new medical conditions to the list of those that already qualify someone for marijuana cards.