This November, Colorado could become the first state in the nation to legalize the cultivation, sale, and recreational usage of marijuana. Smokers across the state have high hopes for the ballot initiative, as do many national advocates, but what will happen to Colorado’s burgeoning medical marijuana community if Amendment 64 is approved by voters?
According to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the most prominent voice of the 2012 legalization movement, Amendment 64 does not alter or affect the existing statutes and regulations of Colorado’s medical marijuana industry. In fact, the Campaign says, it offers patients more privacy than the rules established by Amendment 20. Unlike current rules, which require patients to show both state and registry identification, proof of age would be the only requirement for purchasing cannabis. The bill would allow dispensaries to continue paying taxes at the current rate, and guarantees expedited processing for any existing dispensary’s license renewal. Additionally, Amendment 64’s proposed one-ounce possession limit would not apply to medical marijuana patients, who will be still be allowed to possess up to two ounces at any given time. But does the fact that Amendment 64 respects existing legislation does mean the medical community will remain unaffected?
There are some, like Steamboat Springs resident and dispensary co-owner Kevin Fisher, who aren’t convinced that now is the time to push for legalization. But Campaign co-founder Mason Tvert insists that the Fishers of the world are few and far between. After Reason.com’s Mike Riggs published an article questioning the medical marijuana industry’s support of the legalization movement, Tvert was quick to downplay any perceptions of a rift between pro-medical and pro-legalization activists.
“You mentioned that ‘medical marijuana dispensaries opposed to Amendment 64 are less organized’,” said Tvert, in an email published by Riggs. ”There isn’t less organization; there’s absolutely zero organization,” Tvert continued, noting that more than 200 dispensary owners allowed the Campaign to station petitioners on-site to collect signatures. It should be noted that Colorado is home to roughly 800 dispensaries, meaning the Campaign successfully petitioned at 1 in 4 dispensaries throughout the state.
But it’s not hard to see why some owners want nothing to do with legalization. With the DEA and Department of Justice increasing pressure on medical marijuana businesses across the country, some worry that an increase in marijuana suppliers could lead to increased federal attention on Colorado. And patients have their own reasons to be concerned, as well.
Amendment 64 would allow anyone over the age of 21 to buy, cultivate, and use marijuana recreationally without the burdens of medical records, HIPAA regulations, patient IDs, and more. Dispensaries would be left to compete for customers among Colorado’s 175,000 registered patients, while a recreational cannabis supplier, though encumbered by higher fees and an excise tax of up to fifteen-percent, would have several million potential customers. Considering that dispensaries would pay $4500 less for the new license, it’s easy to see why some patients worry they may become scarce, particularly in lower-population areas like Pitkin County. This, too, could drive up the number of home grows, bringing us back to concerns of increased federal attention.
So, is it possible that Amendment 64 could mark the beginning of the end of Colorado’s medical marijuana community? Or, can the two markets co-exist?