Pot back­log: Law­mak­ers ask for gov­er­nor’s help as pa­tients wait for med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards.

Law­mak­ers: “Our Colorado pa­tients are un­able to get medicine they need”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ali­cia Wallace

Three Colorado leg­is­la­tors are call­ing on Gov. John Hick­en­looper to in­ter­vene in the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana registry back­log, an is­sue that one law­maker says is a mat­ter of “life and death.”

In the let­ter sent to the gov­er­nor Fri­day, Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives Jo­van Mel­ton, Adri­enne Benavidez and Steve Leb­sock ex­pressed their dis­ap­point­ment with the Colorado De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health and En­vi­ron­ment, say­ing “there is no ex­cuse” for the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Registry’s sixto eight-week back­log for mailed ap­pli­ca­tions for med­i­cal cannabis cards.

“With­out med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards, our Colorado pa­tients are un­able to get the medicine they need,” the leg­is­la­tors wrote. “Em­phy­sema pa­tients, cancer pa­tients, chil­dren with epilepsy and many oth­ers have been ad­versely (af­fected) by the de­part­ment’s ne­glect­ful dis­re­gard for pa­tients. We urge you to get per­son­ally in­volved to cor­rect this in­jus­tice.”

The let­ter was car­bon-copied to Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

The mailed ap­pli­ca­tion wait times, which typ­i­cally hover around 35 days, spiked as a re­sult of the state’s Jan. 1 im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new on­line registry. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Registry’s staff was swamped with calls and e-mails about the tran­si­tion that com­pounded the de­lays, said registry pro­gram man­ager Natalie Rig­gins.

Registry of­fi­cials are en­cour­ag­ing pa­tients to regis­ter on­line, where they can re­ceive their card in two to three busi­ness days af­ter cor­rectly sub­mit­ting re­quired doc­u­men­ta­tion. As of this week, 23,000 med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa-

tients, more than 20 per­cent of registry pa­tients, are us­ing the on­line sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to CDPHE.

Pa­tients will be able to sub­mit pa­per ap­pli­ca­tions through the end of the year; the registry moves fully on­line in 2018.

One is­sue that card­hold­ers have had with the new on­line sys­tem is that to com­plete the process elec­tron­i­cally, their rec­om­mend­ing physi­cian needs to be reg­is­tered on­line as well. State of­fi­cials said the re­quire­ment is a func­tion of the site.

Leb­sock, D-Thorn­ton, re­ceived some calls about the back­log from con­stituents this month but didn’t know the ex­tent of the de­lays un­til read­ing a Den­ver Post re­port.

“That just kind of put my feet to the fire and think, ‘We re­ally do need to con­tact the gov­er­nor,’ ” he said Fri­day. “It’s just not right for pa­tients to lit­er­ally wait for months to get their medicine.”

Leb­sock said he would want the gov­er­nor to pick up the phone, call Wolk and in­struct him to have CDPHE pri­or­i­tize this is­sue. From there, Leb­sock asks CDPHE to iden­tify the hangups and solve the prob­lems.

As of Fri­day, the registry of­fice was pro­cess­ing mailed ap­pli­ca­tions re­ceived on Feb. 9, 2017.

Rig­gins said she ex­pected the registry to re­turn to the 35-day turn­around for mailed ap­pli­ca­tions by mid-April, if not by the end of this month.

CDPHE of­fi­cials, in an an­nounce­ment made Mon­day, said that goal would be met by March 31.

When reached Fri­day, CDPHE spokesman Mark Sal­ley ref­er­enced Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment and a March 3 state­ment about the hir­ing of tem­po­rary staffers.

“It is un­for­tu­nate there has been a pro­cess­ing back­log and frus­trat­ing for pa­tients in the registry or those ap­ply­ing for the registry,” Sal­ley said via e-mail. “I per­son­ally re­ceived about 15 phone calls, so I know of the pa­tients’ frus­tra­tion. I have been as­sured by a week from to­day the back­log should be cleared.”

Hick­en­looper was trav­el­ing and un­avail­able Fri­day for com­ment. Of­fi­cials at the gov­er­nor’s of­fice re­ferred queries to CDPHE.

Leb­sock said get­ting back to a 35-day wait­ing pe­riod doesn’t go far enough. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana pa­tients should be able to re­ceive their rec­om­mended medicine within days — not weeks and months.

“This is lit­er­ally life and death for some peo­ple,” he said.

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