Drug Law

Rocky Mtn. High: Marijuana Dispensaries Get Legal Status in Colorado

| by Marijuana Policy Project

DENVER — Today, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) signed legislation that will regulate the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries through a system of local and state licenses, but still allow individual localities to ban dispensaries.

Currently there are an estimated 1,100 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Colorado — the most in any state other than California, which does not have statewide dispensary regulations. Colorado officials estimate that about half of current dispensaries will be able to comply with new regulations.

“By approving a statewide system of dispensaries through which patients can safely acquire marijuana, Colorado is taking a significant amount of revenue away from the dangerous, illicit, and unsanctioned market created by prohibition,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Instead, patients will now be able to obtain marijuana from a sensible and orderly system of law-abiding and regulated providers. The scope of this newly regulated industry makes it the largest ever in the United States.”

Under the regulations, dispensary owners will be subject to licensing fees and criminal background checks. Dispensaries will be required to grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell and, like liquor stores, could not operate within 1,000 feet of a school.

A state-regulated medical marijuana program is up and running in New Mexico and similar programs will soon be operational in Rhode Island, Maine, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. — but the number of sanctioned dispensaries to be allowed in each of those states is fewer than 10. Colorado’s law will authorize hundreds, and potentially more if future demand increases.

A Rasmussen telephone poll released May 15 showed that there is also plurality support among Colorado voters for further expanding the state’s marijuana laws. Forty-nine percent of likely voters said they support taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with an additional 13 percent still undecided.