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Posted: May 01, 2010

Rundles Wrap up: Rocky Mountain high

Jeff Rundles

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Over spring break my neighbor welcomed her brother and his family from Ohio for a few days of Colorado joy. They were scouting colleges in Fort Collins and Boulder, visiting the mountains, seeing the sights in Denver.

Everyone from the flatlands gets a little Rocky Mountain High when they see the Rockies firsthand. But what amazed them the most - and surprised me the most - wasn't Vail or Telluride or the Eisenhower Tunnel or even an amazing spring snowstorm and its subsequent, almost immediate melting (not usual in Ohio). It was the marijuana. They were absolutely taken aback by all the medical marijuana clinics, the open marijuana attitude, and the near universal nonchalance everyone in Colorado seemed to have about it.

I guess through all of the haze I, too, have become nonchalant. And I shouldn't be, nor should anyone else. What's going on with all of this medical marijuana is a sham, one that government, at almost every level, is allowing because, as always, money talks.

I tried marijuana in college and didn't care for it, but I knew a ton of people then and still know quite a few people who are regular, if secret, users. But it's clear this budding pot business isn't about medicine.

People have been saying for decades that marijuana has some valid medicinal properties for those people suffering chronic pain, the effects of chemotherapy, or those with glaucoma. Let's be honest, though: If we could put together a legitimate panel of medical people who could assess the need on medical terms, then perhaps the entire state of Colorado could keep - maybe - 10 medical marijuana clinics in business, and that number is only that high to accommodate geography.

And yet, thousands of applications for dispensary licenses are coming in every week, and perhaps as many as 1,000 people a day are applying for a patient card, according to the Colorado Health Department. There is simply no way in the world there are that many chronic pain sufferers. The clinics, the doctors signing off on the permits, and the state itself should all be ashamed.

But, of course, when there's a fee involved, it's difficult to measure shame.

The people who really have no shame are those who backed the medical marijuana legislation. While they argued the medical points in the campaign, it was pretty clear then - and even more clear now - that the ultimate goal wasn't to get marijuana classified as therapeutic, but rather as a step to its full legalization as a recreational drug. California passed a medical marijuana law in 1996, and this fall voters there will have the chance to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

I am not against legalization, or at least decriminalization. What I really object to is all of the euphemistic posturing. Everyone knows what's going on here - the state, counties and cities all need and want the permit and tax revenue and are, apparently, simply ignoring what's really going on because they want the money.

The doctors writing the "prescriptions" for chronic pain should have their heads examined - and their licenses called into question. And the media - well, never has there been a time in the media when the need for advertising revenue was so great.

I talked with a building owner the other day who was considering renting some space to a medical marijuana clinic. I advised against it - not because of the obvious stigma, but because the business model is entirely unsustainable. Pretty soon we'll all be discussing the bankruptcy of most of these businesses, not the rush to fire up a couple of doobies.

State senators and city council members are all out posturing about protecting schoolchildren and youngsters through substance abuse counseling, and it all looks like good stewardship. It isn't. Either legalize or don't legalize, but let's have a real, honest discussion about where all this is heading and call a spade a spade.

Oh yeah, people are getting high all right. High tax revenues. High fee income. High ad rates. High profiles. High bank balances.

What isn't high are the standards.
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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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