Medical marijuana card demand leads to new Colorado health department policy

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has surrendered to the inevitable.

Yesterday morning I wrote about a friend,Elaine Betts, who'd received her medical marijuana card more than five months after she applied for it -- and over two months after she died.

Soon after, the department announced that it is changing the way it handles applications from medical marijuana patients, acknowledging that it's so swamped with paperwork that people are now waiting up to six months for their cards, when the process used to take a few weeks.

To help with the load, the department has applied to the legislature for more funds to cover hiring additional workers; in the meantime, to save staff time, it will no longer do anything more than accept sealed envelopes from walk-ins.

Here's the release:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Medical Marijuana Registry Procedures for Drop-off Applications to Change

DENVER -- The Medical Marijuana Registry at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is making changes in processing applications at its Vital Records Office at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South in Denver. Effective April 1, the walk-up window at the Vital Records Office will accept medical marijuana applications only in sealed envelopes and will not provide receipts or review applications for completeness at the time they are dropped off.

The changes are necessary due to the explosive growth in the number of medical marijuana applications during the past six months. The number of medical marijuana registry applications increased from approximately 270 per workday in August 2009 to approximately 1,000 per workday in February 2010. Most of these applications continue to be received by mail. This has led to a significant backlog, with increasing lag times between the date of application and the date when a registration card actually reaches the applicant. The turnaround time for applications now is approaching six months.

Currently, walk-in applicants for the medical marijuana registry have their applications
reviewed for completeness by Vital Records staff. The result is that walk-in applicants are
having their applications reviewed ahead of mail-in applications that continue to flow into the Vital Records office each day. The change in walk-in application processing will permit staff to focus on reducing the backlog of applications being received by mail.

"The new processing procedures are the best means we have available for serving all medical marijuana registry applicants," said Bob O'Doherty, director of the Center for Health and Environmental Information and Statistics at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The department was granted additional spending authority from the state Legislature for this fiscal year and has added temporary staff to help process the backlog of applications. Currently the department is requesting spending authority for fiscal year 2010-11 to add permanent staff to process the large volume of medical marijuana applications that continue to add to the backlog. If approved by the Legislature, the new staff could be added beginning in July.

Effective April 1, the Medical Marijuana Registry will implement the following procedures
at the Vital Records service window at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South:

1. Only sealed envelopes will be accepted. Documents that are not in a sealed envelope will be handed back to the applicant or shredded. Envelopes are not available on-site. If you need an envelope, please purchase one prior to arriving.

2. Receipts will not be available at the service window. If you need a receipt to provide
proof of mailing to the Registry, please mail the envelope via certified or registered mail
(or similar method) so that receive a proof of delivery receipt from the Post Office.
Applicants are strongly encouraged to mail their application packets to the
department at CDPHE Vital Records, 4300 Cherry Creek Dr. S., Denver, CO
80246.

3. Questions should be directed to the Medical Marijuana Registry information phone
number, 303-692-2184, or to the Medical Marijuana Registry information e-mail address,
medical.marijuana@state.co.us. Staff will not be available at the Vital Records service
window to address questions.

4. Packets received at the window will be processed along with the mail received for that
date. Dropping off an application does NOT speed the delivery of the registration card.

5. Copying services are not available on-site. If you need a copy of the materials, please
make these prior to arriving.

6. Notary services are not available on-site. If you need a signature notarized, please do so
prior to arriving.


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