Caregivers and Amendment 20 of the Colorado Constitution are under attack. Several weeks ago, Representative Dan Pabon (D–Denver) introduced a bill through the Use of Recreational Marijuana Sales Tax Revenues Interim Study Committee that significantly reduces caregiver’s rights and seeks to create criminal penalties for violations, essentially undermining Article XVIII, otherwise known as Amendment 20, of the Colorado Constitution. Sponsored by Representatives Irene Aguilar (D – District 32) and Jonathan Singer (D – District 11), the new bill will create criminal penalties for caregivers who do not register with the state, requires caregivers to report the number of plants to a criminal database, and limits plant counts to no more than six and gives verification authority to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The whole purpose of the bill is to create more revenue and is not rooted in public safety, although that is often the argument used. Concerning the loss of revenue and the potential abuse of medical marijuana to avoid paying taxes, the bill states “…it is important for the state to ensure that those people who are accessing and engaging in the medical marijuana system are qualified to do so. Otherwise, the state and local governments will be deprived of valuable tax revenue.” In essence, lawmakers think that medical marijuana patients and caregivers are abusing the medical marijuana system because they don’t want to pay taxes. Never mind that they voted for Amendment 20 along with all of its provisions.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that caregivers and patients are being attacked by lawmakers and government officials, the cannabis industry itself is going after caregivers and blaming them for the growth in the back market. At an October 19, 2914 edibles work group, industry members such as Julie Dooley from Julie and Kate Baked Goods, and Julie Berliner of Sweet Grass Kitchens speaking on behalf of the Cannabis Business Alliance, blasted caregivers saying that the high plant counts contributed to black market growth. Medical marijuana made their businesses possible and now they want to push more customers their way by attacking caregivers.
There is no data supporting the claim that caregivers, in particular those with elevated plant counts, are contributing to the data. In fact, news from surrounding states supports that it is recreational marijuana crossing state lines. Their claims also fail to consider all of the contributing factors to the growth of the black market, including high taxes, high licensing and application fees, high entry to market costs, prior criminal records, specifically non-violent drug offenses doing things that are now legal, people using the law as a cover, which of course will happen as it does with cigarettes and alcohol, city and county bans on retail or medical marijuana a stores, and the extremely low cost of marijuana. What has not been mentioned in conversation yet are the price wars that are driving the costs so low that people can get ounces for around $150 and get up to two to three times more that amount by selling marijuana across state lines, in other words, a pound of marijuana here that is around $2000-$2200 can go for $2000 to over $6000.
It is important that all stakeholders consider all of the reasons for the growth in the black market, not just focus on the caregivers. Attacking caregivers comes across as a way to kill the competition, and if the industry does away with caregivers, it will gain all of the patients as customers. As with the government, industry also stands to gain from doing away with caregivers. Part of the reason for the recent attacks could be a side effect of the overall strategy to legalize marijuana. According to a 2012 Denver Post article that interviewed Mason Tvert and Rob Kampia from the Marijuana Policy Project, the strategy to legalize marijuana is to first legalize medical marijuana, and then introduce recreational marijuana. As a result, law makers are trying to take away caregiver and patient rights in order to force them to a retail model to gain more revenue. The ethics of this are questionable considering that people voted for the medical marijuana laws in good faith. It is not fair to “bait and switch” voters.
Caregivers are still very much needed in our community. Attacking them as the sole reason for diversion to the black market is discrimination. We should all be able to coexist together and helping each other improve our laws by empowering each other, not tearing each other down in working groups or attempt to reduce rights that people voted for self-gain. We should be working together to find solutions mutually beneficial to us all. Caregivers provide a very valuable service to their patients. Being a caregiver is very individualized based on the patients needs. Some people need more assistance in life than others. Those that just need marijuana can go to a dispensary, those that want a more personal relationship with their caregiver should have that right, especially since they voted for that right. Dispensaries and retail centers do not give the same level of attention and care to their customers as a personal caregiver does, and more people desire a more detailed level of attention. Caregivers play a critical role in providing access to medical marijuana in remote places, produce and administer medicine for their family members and close friends, and act as an additional resource for providing needs to improve quality of life.
The Cannabis Caregivers Alliance was founded after a concerned group of caregivers and other stakeholders came together. Launching as a 501 (c) 4 affiliate of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, the CCA will be working hard to fight for rights under Amendment 20 along with other consumer rights issues. Patients and caregivers are consumers as well, so are the organizations that sustain them. Battling this issue is a community endeavor. We need all hands on deck to protect caregiver and patient rights. For more information on how you can help, like the Cannabis Consumer Coalition’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/MJConsumer, the Cannabis Caregivers Alliance Page https://www.facebook.com/420CannaCare, or on Twitter @MJConsumer.