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Colorado Board Votes Down Medical Marijuana Caregiver Patient Cap Change

Bente Birkeland
Jenea Cox - who testified at the hearing - and her 5-year-old daughter Haleigh. They moved to Colorado from Georgia so Haleigh could take a special medical marijuana strain to help with her seizures.

The Colorado Board of Health has voted against setting maximum patient caps for medical marijuana caregivers. The proposed rule would have limited caregivers to just 10 patients. After a tense and at times tearful hearing Tuesday, the board said the change was unnecessary.

Jenea Cox, who testified against the proposed cap, was one of dozens of parents who turned up at the capitol for the hearing. She moved to Colorado in March after doctors gave her 5-year-old daughter two months to live. Cox said a special strain of marijuana has lowered her daughter's seizures from 200 a day to going almost a week at a time without one.

"I can't imagine how it would feel knowing children were dying because you had to change a rule," said Cox. "She's smiling now, and she said 'mamma' for the first time in her entire life in Colorado. Without Jason I would not have heard my child's voice."

The Jason she refers to is her medical marijuana caregiver, Jason Cranford. He serves 80, mostly young patients, using a special low-THC strain of marijuana that took him six years to develop. Cranford said only one other person in the state produces this strain.

"What you're asking me to do is put children's blood on my hands and I'm not willing to do that," Canford said. "Just to be blunt and frank, you can pass this rule all you want, I'm not going to stop what I'm doing. If I'm going have handcuffs and go to jail. You'll have to find a DA that's willing to prosecute me."

It didn't come to that. The board voted 6-to-1 to reject implementing new standards. Current rules limit caregivers to 5 patients, but caregivers can receive a waiver for more.

Jason Warf, the legislative director with the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, pointed out that only four medical marijuana caregivers out of nearly 3,000 in the state even have more than 10 patients.

"We're doing all of this for four people. You folks have heard from half of these four people," Warf said. "I'm pretty sure they would agree you could come and visit their grow, law enforcement could come visit their grow. My question is why are we here? This is something in 14 years we can't point to widespread diversion. We cannot point to anything.

For its part the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment is concerned about large unregulated grow operations and diversion of product to the black market. The head of the CDPHE, Larry Wolk, said a caregiver is supposed to do more than just grow pot for a patient, and large numbers of patients makes that difficult.

"To think we would be working, or that I personally would be working, on anything that's not in a patient's best interest shows a lack of respect for me," Wolk said. "This is unchartered territory for anyone. So we're being criticized for putting the line out there and saying, OK everybody debate the line."

Another fact surfaced during the hearing – new to several commissioners – is that patients under the age of 18 are required to list their parents as their caregiver. Under the rules, those parents can only get medicine from a medical marijuana center, and not another caregiver. So Wolk said what these parents are doing is not correct.

"We're dealt these cards, and these cards right now are constitutional law which defines how children or minors can work with parents who are care givers, but no other," Wolk said. "So it's not something we have the authority to change."

But parents said they have no choice since they can't grow the marijuana themselves and make it into oil and tinctures, and medical marijuana centers don't have the strain they need. One parent, Christine Steed, said she had attempted to grow her own medical marijuana in order to treat her daughter's epilepsy.

"For somebody to think any of us can grow our own medicine or anything like that is a joke," said Steed.

"I got a couple of starts to try to do that and they died when my daughter had to go to the hospital," Steed continued. "It's unreasonable to even think that parents can do that."

In the end no one during the four-hour hearing testified in support of the rule change to cap patients. The board of health did vote to clarify the waiver process, to make it more transparent which exceptions are required for caregivers to be allowed more patients.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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