Medical Marijuana Day of Action includes rally at health department
U.S. Attorney John Walsh's seizure letters to 23 dispensaries near schools -- and his promise that he's not bluffing -- has led to protests from national organizations like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Now, local groups are staging a Medical Marijuana Day of Action, which includes a letter-writing campaign and a noon rally at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
According to attorney Shawn Hauser, members of the medical marijuana community, including lawyers, business owners and representatives of advocacy outfits ranging from Sensible Colorado to the National Cannabis Industry Association, have "gotten together to make a united stand for the rights of patients and the state." To that end, interested parties are encouraged to get in touch with Walsh, members of Congress from Colorado, Attorney General Eric Holder (Walsh's boss) and others to express their displeasure with the U.S. Attorney's actions. Two examples of sample letters are on view below, and links to contact information for the state's congressional delegation are available at the website of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America, a key Day of Action participant.
"We feel a strong message from Coloradans, especially the patients themselves, is important," Hauser says. "We're asking every patient and supporter to call their congressperson, tell them that they're a constituent in their district, and let them know that we have a state system that's working, and federal interference isn't right.
"We have the most highly regulated medical marijuana system in the country," she continues, "and they're doing a great job of safely regulating medical marijuana here. There's never been an issue of kids getting marijuana from a dispensary. In fact, kids can't even go into one. So we're asking the U.S. Attorney to cease his action and stop trying to shut down dispensaries that are legal under state law, and which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars complying with state laws. And we're asking our representatives in Colorado to contact John Walsh and ask him to stop interfering with this tightly regulated law."
Meanwhile, today's rally is intended as a response to another recent controversy -- the health department's decision to deny or reject medical marijuana license applications from patients who may have been examined by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, as opposed to actual doctors. The denial-versus-rejection distinction is important. If it can be proven that a patient didn't see a doctor, the application will be denied and affected patients won't be allowed to apply again for six months -- and since some of them previously faced long delays, the actual span could be nearly a year. However, if the department isn't certain a doctor wasn't involved, the application will merely be rejected, and a patient can reapply immediately.
Denied patients can appeal this decision, but MMAPA regional director Miguel Valdez says the process has been unnecessarily laborious.
"Patients who've been receiving letters of denial" -- the MMAPA estimates that there have been at least 460 of them so far -- "are being told they have to wait indefinitely for someone from the CDPHE to contact them for their appeal. And while we applaud the CDPHE for trying to make sure patients have safe access, these patients are being punished for seeing nurse practitioners or PAs who they thought were perfectly okay to examine them.
"These patients have a legitimate need for medical cannabis, whether they're AIDS patients, cancer patients or have chronic pain conditions like sciatic nerve conditions, and many of them have been on the registry for multiple years. We'd like to see an expedited process so patients who were denied can have their appeal and be allowed to reapply to the registry, so they can continue to use their preferred choice of medicine."
About a hundred of those who've been denied have begun the appeal process, Valdez estimates, but in his view, that's not nearly enough. Moreover, he sees the department's approach as forcing innocent patients to stop using their medication even though they had nothing to do with what the CDPHE considers to be a fraudulent recommendation.
"This is affecting everyone," he maintains. "Patients lose faith in the medical marijuana program if they are constantly facing hurdles and obstacles. They're just going to throw up their hands and say, 'Screw it.' And that will lead them to go back to the black market, where there aren't any regulations, where they don't have safe access, and where they're considered criminals just for obtaining the medication they need. And it negatively affects businesses that have been trying to build goodwill between patients and have been trying to play by the rules of the game.
"We don't want to be combative with the CDPHE," Valdez stresses. "But someone somewhere is telling them to make things difficult for patients and the industry, and that's unacceptable."
The rally takes place at noon at the CDPHE offices, at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South.
Page down to see sample letters to John Walsh and members of Congress.