Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rep. Waller speaks about medical marijuana

Posted By on Thu, May 20, 2010 at 9:04 AM


Though House Bill 1284 has yet to be signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, its effect has been felt throughout the state, as advocacy groups and local business folks have scrambled to understand how its language will affect their lives.

To give us a higher-level look at what happened with the bill, its passage and what might have happened had it failed, we spoke by phone to state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

Indy: What was the passage of House Bill 1284 like?

That bill is one where you wish you had a “Maybe” button to push, because I was sort of back and forth on how I was going to vote on this thing.

I sit on the House Judiciary Committee, and I heard hours and hours and hours of testimony on it, and unlike any bill that I’ve ever dealt with before, on this side you would think you would have the proponents of marijuana on one side, and the opponents of marijuana on the other side. But you had some opponents coming in and testifying that, "This is a terrible bill, and it needs to be killed," and you had some other opponents of marijuana coming in saying, "This is the bill we need to make it right and fix it." And likewise with the proponents of the marijuana. So, I think in that respect, that was a very interesting bill, because there were people that were just all over the map. There weren’t clearly drawn-up sides.

Indy: How did you vote for it?

I voted for its passage.

Now, I can tell you I voted against it committee originally, because of a lot of the amendments that got put on it in committee. For example, one of the really big deals for me is having that local-control option where the local government can either put it to a vote of the people, or decide on their own whether or not they want to have dispensaries — not caregivers, but dispensaries — within their jurisdictional boundaries. That was very, very, very important to me, and that’s something we were able to work with the governor's office on, and get put back in the bill. And ... there was an issue with whether or not felons could own dispensaries; I wasn’t a fan of felons being able to own dispensaries, because this whole thing is just fraught with corruption, just absolutely fraught with corruption.

Indy: Of course, felons owning medical marijuana dispensaries plays bad politically, but what's the actual risk?

Well, I think you have to make some value decision there, and value decisions like we make with felons in many other circumstances. We say they can’t work in schools with our children, we say they can’t own or possess firearms. There are many other limitations we put on felons, and I think with recidivism the way it is, and with this being the kind of industry — whether you agree with medical marijuana or not — this attracts some people that are certainly legitimate users of this product, but it also attracts some kind of sketchy people. And do you want felons — people that are theoretically on the road to getting heir lives on track — do you want them to be tempted by all of these sketchy people that they’re dealing with?

Indy: Was there something that prompted your final "Yes" vote on the bill, or did you just have a good feeling about it overall?

I wouldn’t say I had a good feeling, and I’ll tell you: I would’ve been just fine if it had failed. Again, a couple issues here: I think first and foremost, I can’t help but feel that by voting on this, we’re in some way endorsing — and obviously we are endorsing — the dispensary model. Is that appropriate? I mean, I don’t think that’s what the voters called for in 2000 when they passed the medical marijuana amendment, Amendment 20. I don’t think they conceived, at all, of this dispensary model. So now we’re creating something that’s not constitutional that opens up access to marijuana.

People say, “We should just legalize it and be done with it and call it good.” You know, I’m not that guy — I don’t believe that. We heard a lot of testimony of the effects of marijuana on the developing brain, and there’s some pretty horrific impacts associated with the effects of marijuana on the developing brain, and by the way, your brain’s not fully developed until you’re in your early 20s. And now we’re hearing that access has really opened up to kids in high schools because of the availability of marijuana, because of all these dispensaries that are around.

Indy: Did you visit any dispensaries?

I thought about that, and I thought, “Well, I think that would probably be a good idea,” but it’s one of those kinds of deals when the restaurant knows that the health inspector is coming, what do they do? They clean it up. And they would certainly know if I was coming. I thought, “Well, I guess I could just go out and poke my head into one,” and see what that was like, but it didn’t seem like something that was necessary for me to do.

Indy: Any other thoughts?

Here’s something that I think is very important to understand regarding this bill, and that’s that if this bill had not passed, I believe we would have seen law enforcement going after dispensaries. I think the Attorney General’s office and local law enforcement agencies would have seriously gone after dispensaries. There’s an appellate court decision out there — I think it either came out early on in the session or just before the session started — that said that Amendment 20 didn’t provide for dispensaries, but only provided for caregivers. And I believe that if this hadn’t passed, law enforcement agencies — and maybe not in Denver, maybe not in Boulder, but certainly in Colorado Springs — would have gone after those dispensaries pretty aggressively.

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