Russell Hebets Aug. 6, 2010

Nearly 10 years ago voters in Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This law lay dormant during the Bush years, as federal law enforcement continued to enforce federal prohibitions against marijuana even in states which had legalized medical use. The Obama administration changed that with an executive memo relating that federal law enforcement should not conduct raids against individuals using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. This change opened the flood gates to medical marijuana in Colorado. Currently in Colorado there are well over 50,000 individuals licensed to use medical marijuana and there are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks.

Earlier this year Governor Ritter signed House Bill 1284 into law in a legislative attempt to tighten regulation of medical marijuana. The intent of this bill was to prevent recreational marijuana users from using Colorado’s medical marijuana laws as a back door to non-medical drug use. The law imposed significant additional burdens on dispensary owners and physicians while giving local municipalities much more power to limit or ban dispensaries within their limits.

Among other requirements, dispensaries must now pay application and registration fees that tally into the thousands, must grow at least 70% of their marijuana themselves, can no longer be located within 1000 feet of any school or daycare, and owners or operators of dispensaries must be Colorado residents for a minimum of 2 years and must not have any felony convictions. Physicians may no longer be employed by dispensaries, must keep separate records on any medical marijuana patients, and may not have any financial relationships with dispensaries.

With these new regulations will inevitably come new lawsuits challenging various provisions of HB 1284 with the possibility of future attempts to clarify or change the law at the polls. These issues have not gone away and Colorado medical marijuana law will continue to evolve into the foreseeable future.

Resources:, NORML

Russell Hebets is a Denver criminal attorney and co-founder of Hebets & McCallin, P.C.