The state health board is set to consider the five-patient limit on Monday during a hearing on several changes to how Amendment 20, passed by voters in 2000, is carried out. The board voted to limit caregivers to five patients in 2004 but a Denver judge threw that out three years later because the board didn't hold a hearing first.
Colorado is one of 13 states that has passed laws allowing people to use marijuana for medical reasons. Amendment 20 allows people who suffer from debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV and multiple sclerosis, to smoke marijuana in private once they get a doctor's note and register with the state, paying a $90 fee.
As of June 30, there were about 9,100 people registered to use medical marijuana, according to the Department of Public Health and Environment, which maintains the registry. That's a 1,500 increase over May.
The names on the list are confidential and the department doesn't keep track of caregivers which has led to confusion in law enforcement over which growers are truly legal and which aren't.
The law says patients and their caregivers can grow six marijuana plants themselves or possess two ounces of marijuana. Caregivers are defined as people who have "significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient." However, it doesn't discuss the details of where pot should be grown.
In a draft of the proposed rule changes, the health department states that there's nothing in Amendment 20 that allows for the creation of dispensaries and that caregivers supplying patients with marijuana must be people, not businesses. The department also states that home health nurses typically see no more than five patients a day.
Department spokesman Mark Salley said the proposed changes are in keeping with the spirit of Amendment 20 but declined further comment.
Health board member Jeanne McGinnis declined to comment on the reasons for the five-person limit and other board members didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
Robert Corry, a lawyer who has represented medical marijuana patients, said it's already difficult for patients to find people who can provide them with marijuana and the proposed change will make it more difficult. He said some people have complained to the state that they can't get a consistent supply.
"The remedy for that problem is, if they don't like their caregiver, is to go find another," he said.
Corry said he hoped the board would keep an open mind on the proposed changes but he also said he's prepared to sue to block the five-patient limit if the board approves it.
The board is preparing for a large crowd for Monday's hearing.
They'll meet in a room that can hold about 450 people on the Auraria Campus near downtown Denver. The board is expected to vote on whether to adopt the changes following the hearing, which is scheduled to last seven hours.