DENVER (AP) - Lawmakers concerned about what they call a marijuana black market operating under Colorado's medical-pot system will consider legislation next year that would limit plant grows and place more oversight on caregivers.
A bill advanced by legislative leaders Wednesday on a 13-5 vote would require caregivers to register with state health and revenue officials or face criminal penalties.
The registration would be a step toward curbing how many plants caregivers can grow for their patients, lawmakers say. Currently, caregivers can potentially grow hundreds of plants through an "extended plant count" exception. The bill would require caregivers to go through a more stringent approval process with state health officials to grow more than six plants for each of the five patients they're allowed to have.
"It's a signal that we need to send because what's happening right now is an unregulated black market under the auspices of a medical marijuana system," said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, while presenting the bill to Legislative Council.
Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, and the system has remained after voters approved the drug for recreational use in 2012. Recreational marijuana is taxed at a much higher rate than medical.
The concern from some lawmakers is that a large portion of the state's pot market comes from caregivers, and that as a result, a "gray market" has emerged with marijuana grown legally for medical use and then illegally sold or shared.
The measure also seeks to ensure that medical marijuana patients have only one caregiver instead of several.
The bill's initial approval Wednesday is just the first step in a long process after it gets officially introduced in the legislative session that begins in January.
Jason Warf, the legislative director for the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, opposes the proposed bill and called it "a money grab" because it would shift people toward the recreational businesses.
Some medical marijuana activists also argue the proposal would invite a lawsuit because the 2000 constitutional amendment could be interpreted to forbid restrictions on plant numbers
"For them to even write this policy is very irresponsible," Warf said.
- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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