Legal tips for keeping a medical marijuana dispensary above board

Keep meticulous records on clients, including copies of their state-issued medical marijuana ID cards

Avoid repeated walk-in business

Have patients sign "Appointment of Primary Caregiver" form to give dispensary that specific role

Know the patient's doctor and the patient's diagnosis

Keep on the premises only the number of marijuana plants and amount of harvested cannabis permitted under law on a per patient basis

Designate plants or marijuana to a particular patient

Pay your sales taxes

Source: Attorney Jeffrey Gard

Local medical marijuana dispensaries have received a lot of attention -- much of it unwanted -- in the past few weeks as debates swirl over their proper role and legal standing in light of the sometimes ambiguous language in Colorado's medical cannabis statute.

One Boulder attorney is advising dispensary owners to take no chances and operate within the strictest interpretation of the law, especially during a time when cities and towns are trying to ban the facilities and prosecutors are questioning their legality.

"Being a good neighbor is one of the primary considerations here," said Jeffrey Gard, a lawyer who has advised up to 100 prospective and existing medical marijuana providers and growers on how to abide by the state's medical cannabis law, which was approved as Amendment 20 by voters in 2000.


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"Juries will protect you as long as you are trying to do the right thing."

To do otherwise, he said, will only attract law enforcement and perhaps result in criminal charges being filed.

The language in the state statute -- which specifies that "caregivers" can provide marijuana to a patient but says nothing about dispensaries -- has caused widespread confusion.

Earlier this month, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said he was considering bringing a declaratory or injunctive relief action against a dispensary or marijuana grower to force the issue into a court and get clarification on what's allowed under the amendment.

Last week, elected leaders in Broomfield and Superior directed their staffs to not issue business licenses to applicants seeking to open a dispensary.

Gard said dispensary owners can protect themselves by keeping meticulous records on their clients, including copies of their state-issued medical marijuana ID cards.

"When the police show up, you need a roadmap to the legality of the business," he said.

Gard advises dispensary owners to keep on the premises only the number of marijuana plants and amount of harvested cannabis permitted under Amendment 20 -- which stipulates that a patient or his or her caregiver can possess a maximum of six plants and two ounces of marijuana at any given time.

As an added measure, he said, mark the cannabis as belonging to a particular client.

"You don't want to have one plant that is not designated to your specific patients," he said.

If a dispensary serves 10 patients, Gard said, it should have no more than 60 pot plants and 20 ounces of marijuana on site.

Jay Epstein prepares buds of marijuana for sale at Boulder Alternative Medicine in Boulder earlier this summer.
Jay Epstein prepares buds of marijuana for sale at Boulder Alternative Medicine in Boulder earlier this summer. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )

He warns against allowing repeated walk-in business, telling dispensaries to establish relationships with their patients and their patients' doctors. He even hands out "Appointment of Primary Caregiver" forms that allow a patient to assign the caregiver role to a particular dispensary.

"Do you eat it? Do you smoke it? Do you vaporize it?" Gard suggested caregivers ask their patients. "Unless you have a one-to-one personal relationship with a patient, you're not doing it right."

And he advises the facilities to "pay your taxes, pay your taxes, pay your taxes."

Mark Rose, owner of Grateful Meds in Nederland, said he takes great pains to stay within the bounds of Colorado's medical marijuana law.

"When we set this up, we figured we wanted to be way more than safe," Rose said.

He said he assigns each plant in his grow room to the particular patient it's meant for and always makes sure there is less cannabis on site than the law allows on a per-patient basis.

"I would encourage all dispensaries to be as legal and above board as possible at this point," Rose warned.

New Options Wellness Center in Boulder has become more careful about who it accepts as patients, especially after it was targeted in June and robbed of two 20-gallon tubs of marijuana.

One of its managers, who asked that his name not be used, said the business now operates largely on an appointment-only basis.

"We like to know our clientele," the manager said.

He also said New Options never keeps more cannabis inside the building than what he is allowed under the law on a per-patient basis.

"Just to be on the safe side, we like to keep it real tight," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or aguilarj@dailycamera.com.