Steamboat Springs The Routt County District Attorney’s office will not file charges against a Denver nurse practitioner who wrote recommendations for medical marijuana in Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Springs Police Department Capt. Joel Rae said police, with assistance from the All Crimes Enforcement Team and Routt County Sheriff’s Office, conducted an undercover operation Sept. 10 at Bud Werner Memorial Library where the nurse was performing patient evaluations and signing off on the use of medical marijuana.
Rae said the officer, who did not identify himself as law enforcement, was issued a recommendation for medical marijuana after complaining that a stubbed toe “occasionally aches” during a consultation that lasted less than 10 minutes.
Rae declined to comment about the interaction between the officer and the nurse, nor would he provide the officer’s name or say whether the investigation included additional measures such as video surveillance.
Rae said the investigation was turned over this week to the District Attorney’s Office. It was forwarded to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Brett Barkey, an assistant for the 14th Judicial District, which includes Routt County. The agency oversees the state’s medical marijuana patient registry.
“We view it as a regulatory issue at this point in time, with what we have right now,” Barkey said Thursday.
The nurse, Gay Ann Ost, said she’s one of several nurse practitioners in Colorado who see patients to evaluate whether medical marijuana would be an appropriate treatment method for them. She’s been doing it part-time since April.
“It’s about access and helping people in the rural communities,” she said.
Ost said she is a board-certified family nurse practitioner with the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurse Credentialing Center. She said this is her 30th year in the profession.
She said Colorado’s Nurse Practice Act allows nurse practitioners to work independently if they are delegated medical functions by a licensed physician. Ost said she has a professional agreement with a Denver osteopath who signs her recommendations for medical marijuana.
But she acknowledged the state constitution states that only a doctor can recommend the use of medical marijuana. Ost called it a gray area. She said she sought guidance from the state as well as medical and nursing boards and attorneys for the Colorado General Assembly, but no one would give her clarification.
Chris Lines, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs, said he thought the law was clear.
“The constitution says that only a doctor in good standing can recommend medical marijuana,” he said. “The constitution supersedes statute. Therefore, if there is a nurse practitioner writing recommendations for medical marijuana, they are in violation of the law.”
Lines added, “Medical marijuana is not a medicine. Medical marijuana is a treatment option.”
Colorado voters authorized the use of medical marijuana for certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation when they approved Amendment 20 in 2000. The industry exploded in 2009, which prompted lawmakers at the state and local levels to enact new laws to regulate it. Routt County and Steamboat Springs voters will decide whether to ban medical marijuana businesses here in the upcoming election.
Previous attempts by other Colorado law enforcement agencies to bring charges against doctors have been unsuccessful to date.
The Aurora Sentinel reported in July that a trial against physician Manuel Aquino-Villaman, who was charged with forgery, attempt to influence a public servant, marijuana distribution and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, was delayed indefinitely.
The Denver Post reported that an Arapahoe County judge in May threw out the same charges against Englewood physician Toribio Robert Mestas.According to the Post, the judge said the doctor complied with state law when recommending medical marijuana to an undercover officer who complained of having daily back pain.
Rae said local law enforcement was alerted to Ost’s activity by community members who saw a classified ad in the Steamboat Today. He called the undercover operation a “compliance check.”
The county’s top law enforcement officers, including Rae, Police Chief JD Hays, Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Undersheriff Ray Birch, wrote in a Sept. 30 Steamboat Today letter to the editor that medical marijuana was becoming too easy to get and provided some detail about the operation, including the officer complaining of having a stubbed toe that “occasionally aches.”
Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher said he found it interesting that local law enforcement would use its resources to investigate Ost. He said it’s not going to stop other medical professionals from coming to Steamboat to recommend medical marijuana to qualified patients.
“They’re going to continue to come up from the Front Range until local physicians come on board and realize this is a viable treatment option under our state constitution,” Fisher said.
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com