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Pot debate will keep simmering

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By Greg Romberg

Legal access to marijuana in Colorado seems to be a constantly moving target. As new medical marijuana laws go into effect in our state, a number of other things are coming together as well.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is considering a more flexible definition of post-traumatic stress disorder at virtually the same time as the state health department is being asked to add PTSD to the list of medical conditions for which medical marijuana could be prescribed. If both these things come to pass, it would liberalize access to medical marijuana for PTSD sufferers.

At the same time, local governments are working to implement the provisions of the two new laws that were passed during the last legislative session. One important provision of the new laws gives local governments discretion about how and whether dispensaries may operate within their jurisdictions. The Jefferson County commissioners have adopted a resolution to prohibit these facilities in unincorporated areas of our county. Aurora voters will decide in November whether there will be dispensaries in their city. In jurisdictions where facilities will be allowed, local land use requirements will limit where they are located and how they operate. In the next few months, we should have a pretty good idea about where and how medical marijuana patients will and will not be able to access the drug.

Over the course of the last year, use of the medical marijuana laws to access marijuana has exploded across Colorado. There is no question that many of the people with medical marijuana cards have questionable medical conditions and are using the cards to procure marijuana for recreational use. The balance achieved through the new laws that have been enacted by the legislature provide additional legitimacy for this industry, but will make it more difficult for people without legitimate medical conditions to get marijuana using the medical exemptions.

What has become increasingly apparent over the course of these discussions is that there are two very different agendas being pursued. There are a variety of people with a variety of different ailments who find relief through the use of marijuana. There is also a growing industry of people who want to use medical marijuana as a vehicle for more widespread use. There is a belief that the medical benefits of marijuana can be used to develop more social acceptance of it for other than medical uses.

Expect to see a ballot proposal for the complete legalization of marijuana in Colorado in the next couple of years. While it is questionable whether such a proposal could pass and what passage would mean in light of federal laws against use and possession of marijuana, the back and forth about marijuana use in Colorado will be an ongoing conversation.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.