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Colorado slows medical marijuana crackdown

By: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press
April 21, 2014 Updated: April 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm
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DENVER — Colorado appears to be giving up on its effort to crack down on medical marijuana growers who are using a legal loophole to grow high numbers of pot plants without the kind of oversight faced by commercial growers.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment said in a statement Monday that it was reviewing responses to letters it sent earlier this month to about 2,300 doctors who have recommended medical marijuana. The letters sought medical justification for recommending more than six plants to any patient.

Colorado's state constitution allows medical marijuana patients up to six plants, though doctors can give permission for more plants. The constitution also allows patients to designate a "caregiver" to grow the pot on their behalf. Colorado has about 3,300 designated caregivers, registered under a model that wasn't affected by the passage of recreational pot in 2012.

Caregivers are not required to submit to background checks or pay the steep licensing fees required of commercial pot growers.

Colorado health authorities have tried several times since the 2000 passage of that amendment to crack down on caregivers. State law limits caregivers to five patients and a total of 30 plants — but state health authorities have said a small number of those caregivers are using a "medical necessity" loophole to have more patients and grow many more plants.

The Health Department sent letters to caregivers on April 1 asking for additional medical justification. Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado's chief medical officer, told caregivers last month to expect more scrutiny over what he called "excessive" plant counts.

"Single plants can produce significant amounts of usable cannabis," Wolk said.

But caregivers pushed back.

One of the high-volume caregivers, James Clark Jr. of Akron, said his 40 or so patients were distraught at the news.

"I told the state if they wanted to do this, they'd have to come out here and tell these people to their face they wouldn't be able to access their medicine," Akron said Monday.

A lawyer representing other marijuana activists threatened to sue over the letters and was told Friday that the Health Department wouldn't pursue the "medical necessity" reviews.

"That is a decision for the physician," lawyer Rob Corry said of the marijuana plant counts. "The Health Department should not practice medicine. It should not second-guess doctors in the field."

A proposed bill to end "medical necessity" marijuana waivers has not been introduced.

A Health Department spokeswoman, Jan Stapleman, gave The Associated Press a statement Monday that said little about how the agency planned to pursue high-volume caregivers.

"The Department is currently reviewing public comments, physician-submitted documentation and available research to restructure its procedures," Stapleman said. "More information will be available soon."

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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