The Caregiver Bill: Too much opportunity for abuse

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t turn a bad bill into a good one. That’s where we’re at with SB-014, The Caregiver Bill.

I’ve been so stressed and lost so much sleep this week over this bill. I’ve fretted over how it might negatively affect patients. Would patients end up losing access to the medicine they need? Will more patients suffer if this bill passes? Will law enforcement use this to target patients and caregivers, or will they leave people alone? Does this offer any concrete protections? What happens if we don’t pass this bill? Will they put forward a bill that’s even worse?

This bill originated in the Marijuana Revenue Interim Committee. That should tell you something about the intent of the bill. It’s all about lost tax revenue and law enforcement. It’s all about treating patients and caregivers like criminals.

There is no evidence that diversion of marijuana is coming from caregivers or patients. Just a lot of finger-pointing. This bill will do nothing to stop diversion. But it will penalize caregivers, and patients will lose access to the life-saving and life-changing medicine they need.

What it comes down to is trust that law enforcement will respect the Constitution and protect patients and caregivers.

I learned long ago that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Looking back over the history of law enforcement interactions with marijuana doesn’t give us much confidence. No-knock raids, compliance checks, profiling, all serve to create distrust in law enforcement’s ability to use compassion and reason when it comes to marijuana.

Don’t get me wrong here. There are a lot of really good cops out there. They aren’t the ones I’m concerned with. Just like our opponents, it’s the abusers, the bad apples that we worry about.

We still hear comments from some leaders in law enforcement that give us pause. Apparently some think they’re medical experts now, still making claims that there’s no evidence that marijuana has any medical value. (I rarely hear this from the medical community these days.) They still think the smell of marijuana is and should constitute probable cause for criminal activity and are using that to initiate searches, get warrants and arrest people. What’s really changed in their attitude or tactics?

This is a huge paradigm shift, and I understand the desire to make this whole situation easier for law enforcement, but it’s bad public policy to make things easier for them by trampling on the rights of citizens. Law enforcement and other agencies like the CDPHE  want a bright line in the sand, when they already have one. It’s called the Colorado Constitution.

Are there abuses in the caregiver model? Sure. There are abuses in every industry, every system, every agency. Start looking into civil asset forfeiture for some pretty scary examples, or just watch the nightly news.

And therein lies the problem. Law enforcement has a record of abusing the tools they’re given. Until attitudes change, until we address the systemic institutional bias within our agencies, until we accept that medical marijuana is legal and legitimate, until the federal government changes its position on marijuana, we simply can’t trust law enforcement to use compassion and do the right thing.

Unfortunately, the system put forward in this bill would hand over sensitive information that requires strict confidentiality by the Colorado Constitution to the very agencies who are most likely to abuse that information. There are no restrictions or guardrails on who has access or how that information might be used. That’s an awfully big risk for anyone on that list.

This concern isn’t from me alone. I talked with a broad spectrum of interested parties including other patients, doctors, caregivers and lawyers. Everyone agreed that although there are some good things in this bill, the constitutional issues and potential for abuse are just too great to ignore.

Don’t mistake our participation in the process for acceptance and support of the end result. We embrace opportunities to engage in conversation and educate elected officials.

Senator Aguilar has been amazing. She demonstrates genuine compassion and concern for the health and wellbeing of patients. She listens and asks questions. She’s sensitive to issues faced by patients and caregivers in areas of the state with bans in place. She takes feedback from all stakeholders, even ones we might wish she wouldn’t. She’s put a lot of time and energy into understanding the issues at hand. I believe she truly cares and genuinely wants to find a solution to issues involving caregivers. I can’t thank her enough for the time, energy and brain damage she’s devoted to this issue.

It’s disappointing that this bill doesn’t provide a solution we can accept.

Take a look at the most recent draft of this bill: Caregiver Bill SB014_L_002-3

If you want to understand more about how we got here, read my post on the process.



Categories: Advocacy, Business & Industry, Colorado, Law Enforcement, Patients, Policy & Politics, War on Drugs

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  1. UPDATE: Medical marijuana at the half-way point | Cannabis Patients Alliance

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