Augmenting Colorado’s Caregiver Criteria

Over the past few years, Cannabis law in Colorado has taken a tragic turn.  For Ron Niehouse and I, the over zealous actions of law makers and law enforcement have taken quite a personal turn.
Following our arrest, it became obvious that education was lacking among those elected to create our laws and those sworn to protect us.
The words that follow are the first installment in my two-part letter to Colorado law makers, and the Governor.
In this  effort, I attempt to bring common sense and justice to this issue, with the hope that we can circumvent the hellacious tragedy that is only beginning to befall our state’s chronically and terminally ill through misguided state bills and illiterate actions on behalf of our law enforcement.
Education, and humanitarian effort must guide the will of those who write our laws, as well as those sworn to enforce them.

Cannabis law in Colorado has concentrated on the adult cannabis market, the industry and the black market with little consideration for the caregivers who’s work truly satisfies the purpose for Amendment 20.  Somewhere along the way, it was taken for granted that cannabis dispensaries would fulfill the needs of the chronically and terminally ill.  In fact, they do not.

The Poor
90% of Coloradoans who could benefit from cannabis do not have access.  It’s largely cost-prohibitive.  For patients forced to purchase from dispensaries, most cannot financially afford to purchase amounts sufficient to treat their condition.  Without consistent dosing, cannabis can only have marginal benefit in treating most disease.  With conditions like cancer, inconsistent dosing is never adequate in curbing the malignancy.

There is no provision for the poor.  I have a patient in Colorado Springs who resided there for over a year before I met her.  She moved to Colorado immediately following a lung cancer diagnosis.  This cancer patient couldn’t afford the cannabis oil that would have given her comfort and more than likely preserve her life.
Imagine living for a year, knowing cancer is growing in your chest, without access to meaningful treatment, just because you’re poor.

Caregivers who take it upon themselves to provide for the sick and needy are penalized for their efforts. Law enforcement considers any form of compensation a “black market” sale. Without a legally firm basis for reimbursement – for the materials and/or physical effort required to adequately service those who cannot afford their cannabis treatment, few caregivers will take the risk. Those who do, unless independently wealthy, usually don’t last long.

Why have the poor not been meaningfully considered?  Their illnesses are no different (albeit not treated) than those who have wealth.  With an industry that now rates it’s profits in the billions, why has not EVERY needy Colorado cannabis patient been provided for?
Since coming to Colorado, I have watched multiple videos of police raids – cannabis plant after cannabis plant, ripped from their pots, hauled outside and proudly thrown in the dirt for the cameras.  One recent article touted that the officers hauled plants to a municipal treatment plant and dumped raw sewage on them to render them unusable.
As I have testified no less than four times before the state, there is not nearly enough cannabis to meet the need.  I could have preserved lives with those plants.

With caregivers forced to utilize bi-products like “trim” and “shake” to meet the need – and they must, since dispensaries are using an ever larger amount of their waste to produce their varied products, caregivers are left in the lurch.  Seized plant material should NEVER be destroyed if it is a reasonably healthy product.

Patients, now more than ever, fear law enforcement with their increasing crackdowns on caregivers.  Losing a caregiver (and Colorado has lost many), means seriously ill patients doing without or preyed on by the unscrupulous.
With the ever growing number of reports of seemingly miraculous results in treating serious, even terminal disease with cannabis oil, why are we still policing cannabis as if it were heroin? In over-regulating Cannabis, we have left our most critically and terminally ill to be treated like criminals…and our poor, without the hope that the majority of Colorado voters THOUGHT they were bringing to our state.

REAL Education

In close to 30 states that have some provision for the use of medical cannabis, not one has led  with comprehensive and/or truthful education. At best, divisive half-truths catering to private interests.  Current Colorado law is far removed from the science that is currently hailing the praises of cannabis oil.  In EVERY state that has some form of cannabis law, Cannabis is still treated like a harmful, dangerous drug.

Though EVERY state has the right, and legal justification to remove cannabis from their list of controlled substances, ALL have refused to do so.  Colorado has been no different, actually relying on the Federal Statute regarding its classification.  Consequently, law enforcement has been thrust into a very volatile, no-win scenario.
How do you successfully police a non-toxic, naturally grown substance that can preserve the lives of our community’s dying when it also carries the penalties of the most toxic poisons?

It is unfortunate that no education involving medical efficacy is being provided to law enforcement – only methods of policing a dangerous substance. Most still consider cultivation of Cannabis and/or the production of any products or treatments containing Cannabis or its derivatives as illegal activity.  Cannabis is widely called “contraband” – not medicine, when officers find it in a home or vehicle.

Caregiving beyond cultivation – the REAL role of a Caregiver

What is a “cannabis caregiver”?

Though Colorado’s recognition of caregiving does not extend beyond cultivating plants (per Colorado’s patient application form), in reality ALL patients require proper instruction and most require assistance in the preparation of edibles, topicals, suppositories and FECO (full extract cannabis oil).
Dispensaries are retail outlets. They do not typically provide meaningful information beyond what is required to make a sale.
Since well-educated caregivers are in short supply, most patients in this state never develop a meaningful understanding of how or what they are consuming.

How can Colorado have an effectual medical cannabis program when those who write the laws and those who enforce them have far less understanding of cannabis – it’s safety and efficacy – than even the average consumer?
All too often, those in authority have relied on “the industry”, which is based in profits, not education, to provide them with the criteria to address cannabis consumption.  This is largely why we are in the mess that we are in.

What is home / caregiver equipment?  How is a “water purifier” used in the production of cannabis oil?
As it was in my case, the officer in charge was not familiar with the equipment or process I was using. Since cannabis was present, (as it is documented in the Discovery) he just assumed it was some form of illegal activity and processed the scene accordingly.
State law has an exemption protecting those who use the alcohol method of extraction. I helped draft it.  Even so, few officers, even those who head up “marijuana task forces”, rarely take the time to verify what the Statutes actually have to say regarding the matter.

The process of producing FECO is age old and utilized by patients and caregivers all over the state of Colorado.  FECO, or Full Extract Cannabis Oil, is NOT a recreational product.  It does not taste good smoked and can be messy in application.  It is used almost exclusively to treat serious, even life-threatening disease.

Law enforcement, and law makers for that matter, need a firm (and truthful) understanding of cannabis, and concentrates made from it, prior to drafting or enforcing laws that effect their state’s constituents.  They need to truly understand that this is a viable and widely used alternative to prescription drugs. As well, they should be working diligently to protect the patients who use it, and their caregivers, rather than preying on them as criminals.

Multiple patients

Finding REAL caregivers with a benevolent skill set are remarkably difficult to find. Unrealistic restrictions on the number of patients for whom a caregiver can provide serves no purpose, particularly when zoning and rental lease requirements already overwhelmingly limit home cultivation.

Patients should be given the clear right to combine their “grows” when possible to save expense.  When health conditions dictate it, need should ALWAYS supersede set plant counts and ridiculous limitations based on the number of residents per household.

Out of state patients

How do we address the vast number of out of state visiting patients and refugees?  Provision must be made for seriously ill patients coming from other states.  Recreational dispensaries are not adequate.  Caregivers must be allowed to work with them.

Though we cannot endorse the transport of cannabis products across state borders, morally, we cannot justify depriving another human the very medication that could preserve their life.  What’s more, we cannot in good conscience prey upon them by forcing them to incur the ridiculously inflated pricing and purchase limits required by recreational dispensaries.

These are critically ill people, not some “20-somethings” looking to get high over a weekend. We are well overdue in making that distinction.

Caregivers like myself regularly field calls, texts and emails from seriously ill patients from literally around the world.  Who would stand idly by while a loved one suffers from terminal illness, knowing full well that a treatment exists here in Colorado?  Likewise, how can we so hypocritically stop them from coming here, as if our borders carry more authority than our moral commission to care for those who are suffering and less fortunate?

Colorado Cannabis law has taken a very dangerous turn.  Our chronically and terminally ill are once again being arrested, their life’s ruined – even imprisoned.  Caregivers are not cartels.  They are not shipping pallets of plant material or pounds of concentrate across state borders.  And neither are the patients that they care for.
We must IMMEDIATELY take steps to protect those who care for our most vulnerable.

There are ways to correct these issues.  Please allow me to assist you in formulating the solutions.

Mark Pedersen

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