Brian Vicente and Josh Kappel: The Future of Medical Marijuana is Legalization

By Brian Vicente (pictured) and Joshua Kappel

An amazing thing happened in October. For the first time in 40 years of polling, the national Gallup poll found that 50% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana – a new record. This poll signals that we have reached a “tipping point” where marijuana legalization can no longer be considered a fringe issue, as a majority of citizens now want an end to the 80-plus years of government criminalization of the marijuana plant and its users.

That brings us to two important questions. How will legalization affect the medical marijuana industry that has developed in Colorado, California and a handful of other states? And how will it affect the hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients across the country?

Many experts feel that legalization is a necessary step to assist all needy patients and that the medical marijuana sector should welcome this inevitable reform, as the move would be positive for all aspects of the industry.

Why the MMJ industry needs legalization

The medical marijuana industry was established to provide medicine to patients in a safe and professional manner, thereby bridging the gap between the recommending doctor and the sick patient. However, our medical marijuana laws have come up short, and millions of sick citizens cannot access this medicine, often because state laws are overly restrictive when it comes to the medical conditions one needs to qualify for a card.

In Colorado, only patients whose medical conditions are specifically listed in our original medical marijuana law can legally use this medicine. This means that as science develops and new medical uses for marijuana emerge, Colorado patients are not able to take advantage of these advances.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has denied each and every petition to add new qualifying conditions to the medical marijuana registry. In essence, we are frozen in time: The state is unwilling to keep up with science and add protections for patients who may benefit from using medical marijuana but don’t qualify under our decade-old law.

In Colorado, it is estimated that over 2.5 million residents have been adversely affected by the CDPHE’s routine denial of these compassionate petitions. Given this stonewalling by the Colorado government, it is only through legalization that these millions of patients will finally be able to access the medicine they need. At their core, MMJ businesses care about patients, and a growing number are realizing that only through legalization will all sick people have access to medicine without fear of arrest.

Benefits for businesses

In Colorado, roughly 800 businesses applied for a medical marijuana center license in 2009 and there are currently 128,000 licensed medical marijuana patients in the state. This adds up to about 160 patients per business. However, roughly 650,000 individuals in Colorado use marijuana. So what does it all mean for the business community? With legalization, centers would benefit from a customer base over 5 times larger than the one they currently serve.

Medical marijuana businesses operating today will be in the best position to capitalize on the recreational market because these businesses know how to produce and sell marijuana in a professional and regulated capacity. Additionally, only these businesses have the systems already in place to meet rigorous state and local regulations required under medical marijuana laws. The specifics of Colorado’s legalization effort–  the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act of 2012– provide significant preference in granting licenses to those businesses currently operating legally under Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Code.

A call to action

Despite the fact that more than one-third of American citizens now live in states that permit medical pot, the number of marijuana arrests continues to rise each year. In fact, last year 758,000 individuals were arrested for simple possession of marijuana. These are our family members and friends who are arrested, fired, denied student aid, kicked out of housing, or lose their children simply because of marijuana prohibition.

With the strong support of MMJ businesses and regular citizens alike, Colorado is poised to stop this madness with a statewide legalization vote in 2012.  Please join the campaign at today. Legalization is good for everyone, especially dispensary owners and related businesses.

Attorney Brian Vicente is a founding member of Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a law firm providing legal solutions for the medical marijuana community.  He also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado, a non-profit focusing on medical marijuana patients and providers. Joshua Kappel is also an attorney at Vicente Sederberg and serves as the associate director of Sensible Colorado.