Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed two bills into law Monday that are designed to more strictly regulate the state's medical marijuana industry.
Local governments will now have the option of banning dispensaries in their communities, and doctors who recommend marijuana have to show they actually examined their patients.
Just about every neighborhood in Denver has a dispensary — some have two or three or more.
The Lowry Leaf, east of downtown Denver, has been in business for three months. Inside, there's a heavy marijuana smell; fans run in the hallways to ward off the summer heat.
Co-owner Kenneth Adler says he has mixed feelings about the new laws. He says he likes that they lend an air of legitimacy to his business, but he worries more regulation will put up roadblocks for patients. "If they make it more and more difficult for patients to be hooked up with their caregivers and obtain their medicine, then the people will just give up and go back to the streets," Adler says.
Senate Bill 109 requires that doctors who recommend pot for patients actually examine them and have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship. The second law, House Bill 1284, establishes 60 pages of new regulations for dispensaries.
But the part of the law that medical marijuana advocates seem most worried about allows local governments — or voters through a local initiative — to ban dispensaries and large growing operations altogether.
"We think a community should have no more right to ban a dispensary as they should to ban pharmacies," says Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado. "We are talking about access to medicine for sick people and we don't think communities should be able shut that off."
Already, several city councils have started the process of banning dispensaries. Among them — the ski resort town of Vail.
"We thought that this ran counter to the marketing and all the things that we've done," Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland says. "We're primarily a destination resort."
Advocates such as Vicente say if Vail does bar dispensaries, they'll just put the issue before Vail voters in November. Advocates also are threatening to challenge community bans in court.