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It's all good, if it's all good

Nine days after the election, and the future of medical marijuana in unincorporated El Paso County remains an unknown. Roughly 5,000 provisional ballots, of which 90 to 95 percent are traditionally considered valid, have until Nov. 16 to be totaled, while the election's complete tally — and the determination over whether a recount is needed or not — will likely not be done until the Nov. 19 deadline. Meanwhile, a slim 331 votes currently cushion centers from a ban.

So what would a failure of the ban mean to the county?

"It wouldn't change anything," says County Commissioner Sallie Clark. "We would basically just continue to work within our land use rules that we already have in place, and continue to permit the facilities as they are currently in our code."

City Councilor Jan Martin says whether a ban ultimately passes or not, Council has already made its bed, and plans to lie in it.

"It doesn't change my willingness to move forward from the city's perspective," she says. "I think Council has pretty consistently stated that they support the dispensaries but want to look at land use issues.

"We're actually working on that now, and I don't see that changing at all as a result of this vote. Even if a ban occurs, I don't think it will change how Council moves forward on this."

If you want something done ...

This past May and June were full of talk. State legislators decried or supported potential legislation; medical marijuana advocates came out against the limits being placed on dispensaries, but crowed over any hint of legitimization; and local attorneys made lots of noise over the lawsuits being readied to fight House Bill 1284 as it was being crafted.

So what happened in the courts? Nothing, says Kathleen Chippi, president of the Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project (cannabislawsuit.com). And that's why her group emerged two months ago.

"We came forward because, quite honestly, the medical marijuana attorneys that had promised us lawsuits did not come through," Chippi says.

The Project plans to file suit against the state by the end of the year, with the intent to overturn HB 1284 and Senate Bill 109.

Chippi, 41, has long advocated for the mainstreaming of marijuana in Colorado. She owned an MMJ dispensary, but recently made news for telling colleagues to join her in not registering with the Department of Revenue. It was a protest against handing the state money when one of its legislators, Sen. Chris Romer, professed an intent to close down 80 percent of dispensaries.

"I am temporarily closed; I chose not to apply to be a MMC because those were not constitutionally protected," she says now. "And in order to apply to become one, you had to sign your power of attorney over to the Colorado Department of Revenue, and give up all your privacy rights in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution."

As for her forthcoming lawsuit, Chippi declines to name the attorneys working on her behalf. But she shares names of a few attorneys who aren't working with her.

"I'm so disheartened in all the attorneys that are calling themselves pro-pot: Warren Edson, Rob Corry, all of them — Brian Vicente," she says. "Four or five months have passed — nothing's happened, and they're not doing anything."

Ultimately, Chippi says her motivation has nothing to do with getting her dispensary back. Instead, she says, it's about rights: to safe patient access, to future recreational enjoyment and to living independent of heavy state regulation.

"I'm more for freedom," she says, "than I am for bending over."

Shhhhh!

The Colorado Board of Medical Examiners' quiet tightening of regulations surrounding a physician's ability to recommend medical marijuana has left roughly 2,000 potential patients without the ability to purchase medical marijuana. Their physician approval came from one of 18 doctors across the state, whose right to recommend MMJ was removed retroactively.

The changes stem from a rule that slid into place during the week of Oct. 18, mandating that a doctor be approved only if he or she "holds a valid, unrestricted license to practice medicine in Colorado," meaning, for example, if a doctor's license carried a restriction stating his or her paperwork would be reviewed for an amount of time, this would halt that physician's opportunity to work with potential medical marijuana patients.

"There are probably over a thousand physicians who have authorized medical marijuana for a patient in the state," says Mark Salley, spokesman for the Department of Public Health and Environment. "So 18 represents less than 2 percent of physicians in the state who have been authorizing patients."

Besides the fact that previously accepted patients of the 18 doctors will have to seek a different physician's approval upon renewal, some of the denied patient applications were sent to the state as far back as February. This runs contrary to a portion of Amendment 20 that states if an application is not explicitly denied by the state within 35 days, it's considered approved.

"We hope to be caught up with this backlog by the end of this year, so that question will become sort of moot, where we'll be back to real-time consideration of applicants," Salley says. "There's a bit of a limbo on that until we are caught up by the end of the year.

"It's not a clear thing."

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