State health officials called an emergency meeting Tuesday to reverse a decision made last summer on the definition of a medical marijuana caregiver. And their decision isn't going over very well with medical marijuana users or providers.
Last summer state health officials broadened the description of caregiver to include anyone who was providing medical marijuana to patients with debilitating conditions. But last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a caregiver has to be someone who must have personal contact with clients and does more than provide medical marijuana.
So on Tuesday the board of health changed its rules to conform.
"It means that if someone who is providing medical marijuana is confronted by police, they may have to prove that they're doing more than providing marijuana, that they're providing other services, like groceries, taking them to a doctor's office, something like that," said Jim Martin, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Health.
Medical marijuana patients say that's hogwash.
"I don't need somebody to run to the store for me. I don't need somebody to give me a bubble bath. I need someone to grow good quality marijuana that helps me with my medical condition," said Tim Martin, a medical marijuana user.
Users say the decision is going to make it more difficult and more costly to purchase medical marijuana.
"They're forcing me to go to the black market to buy a product that I know nothing about and that I have no input on," said Roger Ronas.
Ronas, 51, said he suffers from end stage renal disease and that medical marijuana has allowed him to avoid dialysis and to cut back on regular medication.
An attorney who has represented many marijuana patients says he may file a lawsuit seeking to stop the state from enforcing its new rule.
"I think it's going to add to the cost and the burden of supplying the patients with their medicine. It's going to decrease the amount of people who go into the business of caregiving," Attorney Robert Corry said.
He said he will ask the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court ruling that led to Tuesday's decision.
Marijuana advocates say not only is the decision wrong, so is the way it came about -- during an emergency meeting, called with less than 24 hours' notice.
Robert Chase used a bullhorn beforehand to call for Martin's resignation and the resignation of the state's Chief Medical Officer Ned Colange.
"I believe they committed gross misfeasance. They knew full well there was not an emergency basis for holding this meeting," Chase said.
The state constitution defines a caregiver as an adult who "has significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient who has a debilitating medical condition."
Last July, the Board of Health tried to clarify the rules by defining "significant responsibility" as, among other things, supplying marijuana. But the Court of Appeals ruling last week prompted the state health board to suspend that definition of "significant responsibility."
"What we came up with is a definition that is now not legal," said board member Kindra Mulch. "We tried to clarify it, and it seems like we muddied the waters."
The board will decide Dec. 16 whether to permanently eliminate its "significant responsibility" definition. And although the board will take public comment before the vote, it doesn't appear the board has much of a choice but to make its decision final.
"We're falling back on the (state) constitution because at this point, we don't have anywhere else to go," Martin said.
Corry criticized the health board for not allowing public comment Tuesday.
"This is a secret meeting," he said shortly after a board member told him he was out of order for insisting on speaking. "The people are not being allowed to participate. This is illegal, Mr. Chairman. And I'll see you in court!"
The board said the public comment portion of the hearing is slated for its December meeting.
Pierre Werner, president of the DrReefer dispensary, said if the ruling sticks it will increase his expenses.
"This is going to force me to hire more people to provide these (additional) services to the patients, and in the long run, those costs are going to be passed down to the patients," said Werner.
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