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Colorado Supreme Court Asked to Rule on Medical Marijuana Case

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California Health CareThe Colorado Supreme Court will have a large impact on the fate of the state’s medical marijuana law, depending on whether it decides to consider a case that the state’s Court of Appeals ruled against. The case has been submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court by Jason Beinor and centers on whether Colorado’s constitution, which voters amended in 2000 to include a medical-marijuana provision, does indeed allow people access to medical marijuana.

As John Ingold writes in The Denver Post about the Court of Appeals’ August 2011 ruling and the state’s constitutional Amendment 20:

The court ruled that Beinor — a legal medical-marijuana patient who was fired from his job as a 16th Street Mall street-sweeper after testing positive for marijuana even though he wasn’t impaired at work — wasn’t owed unemployment benefits because he was fairly dismissed.

‘[T]he constitutional amendment was not intended to create an unfettered right to medical use of marijuana,’ Appeals Court judges David Richman and David Furman wrote in their majority opinion.

A third judge on the court panel, Richard Gabriel, disagreed, saying the constitution does create a right to medical marijuana and that Beinor should be given unemployment benefits.

Whether or not the state Supreme Court accepts the case, and what it eventually rules if it does, could affect the legality of Colorado’s marijuana dispensary laws, the number of medical marijuana patients that small-time caregivers can serve, and where and when patients are permitted to use medical marijuana. The Court’s decision could also affect the future of dispensaries in towns that have banned or are thinking about banning them.

Andrew Reid, the attorney representing Beinor in his petition to the state Supreme Court, said “It’s a very big question.”

Kathleen Chippi, who heads the Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project, which supports Beinor’s petition, said, “If they rule against us, then no one has any rights, and amendments to the constitution don’t seem to mean anything. If they rule in our favor, then we have set precedent nationwide.”

But the state’s attorney general’s office disagrees. As The Denver Post reports:

‘The plain language of Amendment 20 didn’t create a right,’ attorney general spokesman Mike Saccone said, referencing the measure voters approved. ‘It created an affirmative defense.’ […]

‘[T]he constitutional amendment was not intended to create an unfettered right to medical use of marijuana,’ Appeals Court judges David Richman and David Furman wrote in their majority opinion.

A third judge on the court panel, Richard Gabriel, disagreed, saying the constitution does create a right to medical marijuana and that Beinor should be given unemployment benefits.

The Court is expected to make a decision about the case in November. If it decides not to accept the case, the Appeals Court’s ruling will hold firm. Michael Roberts writes in Denver Westward Blogs that even if the state Supreme Court finds that the amendment legalizing medical marijuana went beyond merely decriminalizing it, its ruling would not necessarily block certain attempts to limit that. There are 125,000 registered medical marijuana patients in Colorado.

Here is a link to Jason Beinor’s Petition for Cert in Colorado Supreme Court:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/67587680/Jason-Beinor-Petition-for-Cert-in-Colorado-Supreme-Court.

Image by Damian Gadal, used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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