Courts - Colorado Marijuana rules face legal challenge

By Kristen Wyatt

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) -- A group of medical marijuana patients hoping to stop the state's rules on how pot is sold has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn large parts of two laws passed last year to regulate the medical marijuana industry.

The patients claim that the rules violate a constitutional amendment passed by Colorado voters in 2000 guaranteeing marijuana for people with certain medical conditions.

Patients say the pending rules violate patient privacy because of a requirement that pot shops record marijuana sales on video. The patients also argue that the laws wrongly give local cities and counties the ability to ban marijuana dispensaries.

"The real issue here is whether medical marijuana patients are going to be treated like people with debilitating medical conditions, or whether they're going to be treated like potential criminals," said Andrew Reid, a Denver lawyer who filed the lawsuit last week.

The lawsuit is a petition to the state Supreme Court asking the court to throw out most of the pot laws before lawsuits are decided by lower courts. There's no guarantee the Supreme Court will hear the lawsuit.

The challenge to Colorado's looming medical marijuana rules, the most extensive considered in any of the 15 states that have authorized medical marijuana, has long been expected. However, not all in Colorado's marijuana industry want the rules thrown out.

Several marijuana industry members helped write the rules for commercial pot shops headed for final approval in coming weeks. More than 700 dispensaries have applied for state licenses, which would require them to grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell and follow strict protocols for videotaping all areas of the business where pot is stored, among other rules.

"I think there are some onerous provisions, but at the same time this is an industry that needs to be regulated," said Brian Vicente, head of the marijuana-advocacy group Sensible Colorado. Vicente was a member of the committee that wrote the proposed rules.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue, which is implementing many of the rules, said the agency is monitoring the lawsuit but declined to comment on it.

A lawyer who represents marijuana businesses but isn't part of the lawsuit, Richard Gee of Black Hawk, said Thursday that marijuana laws passed by lawmakers likely go too far in limiting patient access and privacy. But he wasn't sure the Supreme Court will take up the matter.

"It's going to be a hot potato for them," Gee said.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Kathleen Chippi of Nederland, said she closed her marijuana dispensary last year rather than comply with the rules. She said she served 2,000 medical marijuana patients from her One Brown Mouse Parlor/ Cannabis Healing Arts dispensary but shut her doors rather than agree to seed-to-sale tracking and videotaping her clients.

Chippi said the state Legislature trampled on constitutional rights to marijuana when it tried to regulate the industry.

"We have rights, and we enjoyed those rights in Colorado for nine and a half years until the Legislature decided they knew better," Chippi said.

Published: Mon, Jan 10, 2011