The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing on the bill aimed at preventing doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to recreational users. It passed around 1:30 p.m. in a 6-1 vote and may go to the Senate floor by Friday.
Under the proposal, doctors have to give medical marijuana patients a physical exam and provide follow up care. Those under 21 need to get the approval of two doctors.
Medical marijuana advocates were divided on Sen. Chris Romer's proposal. Many dispensary owners say they are on board with regulations if they give them uniform guidelines and avert a more severe crackdown like one approved this week in Los Angeles. Hundreds of Los Angeles pot shops face closure after the City Council voted Tuesday to cap the number of dispensaries in the city at 70.
But others feared that requiring follow up visits could cost patients hundreds of extra dollars a year on top of the $90 annual fee they pay to register as a medical marijuana user.
William Chengelis said he can't get his regular Veterans Administration doctors to sign off on medical marijuana and said buying pot illegally and paying the $100 fine would be cheaper than paying a private doctor for follow-up visits.
"I cannot afford this bill," Chengelis told lawmakers.
Patients, doctors and advocates against the measure gathered Wednesday morning to voice their opposition. About 50 people with the Sensible Patient and Provider Coalition lined the steps of the State Capitol urging legislatures to think of the patients first.
They said this issue is not about the legalization of medical marijuana but instead about patients' rights. Aside from the increase in costs, they say the proposal would infringe on their constitutional rights
"Well, it's going to have a severe impact on patients. Patients should be no more restricted in obtaining their medical marijuana than filling a prescription at the pharmacy of their choosing," Dan Pope, who has Muscular Dystrophy, said at the rally. "And inside right now they are going to be talking about placing restrictions on doctors, making it more difficult for them to provide recommendations to patients like myself that really need it."
Medical marijuana patient Sharon Brown echoed those concerns.
"It's about my livelihood. It's about, is legislation going to shut that down? My life requires - in order for me to have a quality of life - it requires certain things and one of those things that is required right now is medical marijuana," she said.
Some Colorado cities and counties already have some rules in place for medical marijuana dispensaries. In Denver rules include prohibiting dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, day cares and other dispensaries. Additionally, felons convicted within the last five years would be barred from running shops. Dispensary owners would have to be licensed, pass a criminal background check and pay a $2,000 application fee along with $3,000 a year to renew licenses.
The rules are set to take effect March 1, although they could change depending on what state lawmakers to decide to do.
Fear that dispensaries would attract crime has been raised by those concerned about the growth of dispensaries. But police in Denver are discounting that.
Police say medical marijuana dispensaries were robbed or burglarized at a lower rate than liquor stores or even banks last year. A memo reported by The Denver Post on Wednesday says they were hit at about the same rate as pharmacies.
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)