With the recreational market open, does it make sense to be an MMJ patient?
Recreational weed is but a drive away for Springs residents, so what's a marijuana patient to do?
The duality of man isn't half as interesting as the duality of Colorado marijuana. And with the Springs acting as a sort of medical-cannabis oasis, a very real question faces locals: to keep the red card, and inclusion in the state's patient database, or not? (Or, if you're new to the scene, to pay a roughly $90 doctor's visit fee and $15 registration fee to get a red card, or not?)
So via email and phone, we asked a variety of people familiar with the issues for their thoughts on the matter; below are some excerpts, edited for length and clarity. The more litigious-minded requested that we include the disclaimer that none of this is to be construed as official legal advice. And do keep in mind that no matter whether you lean recreational or medical, there are still the usual risks that come with breaking federal law.
• You can buy it locally, and you'll pay a whole lot less than your recreational brethren in Denver or Pueblo. Supply and demand will eventually even out, meaning these $400 recreational ounces may or may not be here to stay. But the 2.9 percent Colorado sales tax, 10 percent special sales tax, 15 percent excise tax, and any additional local taxes for RMJ will be with us no matter what. (Springs MMJ buyers just pay the usual 7.63-percent combined sales and use tax.) Also, points out local attorney Clifton Black, "If a patient is indigent, the [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] can place 'indigent' on the red card to avoid paying taxes."
Don McKay, co-owner of the Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana dispensary, puts the savings this way: "Really, mathematically — everything else aside but mathematically — when you calculate it out with the additional taxes, if they're buying more than $275 to $300 a year it's more advantageous to purchase a red card, just for the tax savings."
• You can have more plants, and possess more pot — up to 2 ounces, as compared to the single ounce allowed for by Amendment 64. On the growing side, MMJ patients can receive a special waiver, with a physician's recommendation, granting permission to cultivate many more than the six plants (three flowering) outlined in the amendment.
• The supply is going to be there. "The stuff that they had for [recreational], the product, was initially taken from the med side," says McKay, referencing how centers adding recreational sales were allowed, for one time, to convert medical plants to RMJ. "And then I don't know what they're going to do [longer-term] because it's going to take them four months to get a crop up."
• Treating your ailment with MMJ helps legitimize marijuana as medicine, says Betty Aldworth, a Coloradan with the lobbying National Cannabis Industry Association. "There is a disturbing argument in the marijuana policy dialogue that suggests people living with chronic pain aren't 'real' patients, and therefore we're all faking it just to get our hands on marijuana.
"Never mind that the cannabis and cannabis products are the same in both markets and equally legal: I'm keeping my red card because counting myself among Colorado's 100,000+ patients is important personally and politically."
• MMJ centers are thinking of you — specifically. "[Retail marijuana centers] don't cater to the patients' needs," writes Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute. "They are designed to sell cannabis recreationally. Recreational users do not have the same requirements for strains and preparations that medical patients do. So patients may not be able to find the same types and qualities of medicines that [medical-marijuana centers] and caregivers supplied."
• You have to have a debilitating condition considered treatable with marijuana, pay for a recommendation from a physician, and pay the state $15 annually to be on the registry. Recreational marijuana just requires an ID saying the bearer is older than 21.
• You have to deal with privacy concerns. Take, for example, last year's state audit of the the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which administers the patient registry, that resulted in an "F" for the department. "The Auditor uncovered numerous serious security breaches that proved the confidentiality of the registry could no longer be trusted," Kriho says.
• Without a special dispensation from a physician, if you're growing at home, you often exceed the possession limit immediately upon harvesting, since a single plant can yield more than six ounces. "Once you harvest, you normally are over the ounce limit," says Denver attorney Sean McAllister, "whereas with recreational, the entire harvest is legal."