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Medical marijuana rules take effect Friday

Kevin Fisher

— Colorado's medical marijuana businesses are subject to new rules Friday that are meant to regulate the business that opponents think has operated without any oversight.

Dispensaries, grow operations and infused-product makers must be in compliance with 77 pages of new Colorado Department of Revenue rules drafted after the state adopted new legislation in 2010 and updated this year, or their owners could face fines or criminal penalties.

The rules range from extensive security provisions to employee identification requirements. The Department of Revenue's medical marijuana enforcement officers also will start to inspect businesses in conjunction with the new rules.

Owners of Steamboat Springs dispensaries, which have operated since fall 2009, said the new rules wouldn't change much about how they operate — though they say becoming fully compliant cost them each a lot of money.

Legitimate or not?

The owners said they hoped the new rules and additional enforcement would help validate them as legitimate businesses operating in the community.

"They say we need regulations like alcohol and tobacco," Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said about opponents to Steamboat's medical marijuana businesses. "There are cigarette vending machines. What do you mean? So, hopefully this starts to shift the tide away from their regulatory stance and they can see that this, in fact, is one of the most regulated industries in the state and, by far, state laws in the country.

"There's nothing close to this."

Colorado voters approved the use of marijuana for people with certain medical conditions and a doctor's recommendation by supporting Amendment 20 in 2000. In Routt County, 65 percent of voters supported the measure.

The state's medical marijuana industry took off in 2009, when the number of patients and businesses exploded. At the time, the state didn't cap the number of patients a caregiver could serve, and the federal government said it wouldn't use resources against people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as of May 31, there were 127,444 medical marijuana cardholders, including 1,883 in the county. That's about 5 percent of the county's 23,509 residents.

Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said although the new rules were an improvement, he's not convinced they're the answer to clean up the state's medical marijuana industry.

"It purely appears out of control, and this isn't going to do anything to slow that down," Rae said.

He said the state needs to start keeping "rogue doctors from writing bogus prescriptions" and work its way toward cardholders turning around and selling what they bought from dispensaries on the street.

A difference of opinion

Dan Hartman, director of the Department of Revenue's medical marijuana enforcement division, said that when his office is fully staffed, 27 enforcement officers will work out of four regional offices across the state. He said eventually they will meet with medical marijuana business owners monthly.

They will address requirements about hours of operation, displaying licenses, employee identification badges, labeling, storage, transportation, cleanliness and waste disposal, among others.

Hartman said the most significant changes will be extensive security requirements, including surveillance cameras that can be accessed at any time by the state, and tagging plants with radio-frequency identification tags.

"Between tracking and having a database that tracks the seed-to-sale inventory and the video part of it, we really bring a lot of validity to the industry," he said. "If a complaint happens, we can go back in time to tapes or electronic images that we can verify that it didn't happen or that it did happen."

Hartman called Friday a "milestone" for the state's medical marijuana industry.

Steamboat resident Lisa Watts, who helped start a group to oppose local medical marijuana businesses, disagrees.

"For me, this kind of thing gives me no comfort. It's a band-aid type effort," she said about the new rules. "This is a mess. … I just think it's a huge misrepresentation to the public that they have a grip on this, and they don't."

Rules could be moot

Local businesses' need to comply with the new rules could be short-lived.

Steamboat voters will consider a ballot measure in November to ban all medical marijuana businesses. The Routt County Board of Commissioners banned all future medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the county June 21.

County commissioners also referred a question to the Nov-

ember ballot that will allow residents to decide whether to ban Milner dispensary Aloha's.

D & C Medical Marijuana and Therapeutic Massage co-owner Charlie Magnuson said he hopes local residents understand that a ban would result in a return to an untaxed, unregulated black market.

"I hope it changes the attitude from where people were saying it was like the wild, wild West," he said about the rules. "Before, there wasn't any enforcement. You had to police yourselves. It's not like that anymore. Now they're enforcing us. I hope people realize it's better that the Department of Revenue regulates us. I hope they don't ban it in November."

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com