June 25, 2019

Spark the Discussion: Supreme Court Leaves Patients Behind

“Spark the Discussion” is a monthly Legal Connection column highlighting the hottest trends in the emerging field of medical marijuana law. This column is brought to you by Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a full-service, community-focused medical marijuana law firm.

By Brian Vicente, Esq. and Rachelle Yeung

Jason Beinor was a street sweeper, assigned to sweep the 16th Street Mall with a broom and dustpan. He had a clean employment record, with no written reprimands or warnings. Yet he was fired from his job and disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

Beinor suffers from debilitating migraine headaches – a lasting, painful consequence of a prior assault. Like 96,000 other Coloradans, Beinor is a legal medical marijuana patient, and occasionally uses this substance in an off-work capacity to ameliorate his suffering. Unfortunately for Beinor, a random drug test in February 2010 tested positive for marijuana, costing him his job.

Beinor never used or possessed marijuana while on the job, and his private medical use never interfered with his job performance. However, under his employer’s zero-tolerance policy, the residual, non-psychoactive THC in Beinor’s system was considered an illegal drug, and Beinor was immediately terminated. Because Beinor believed he had been fired through no fault of his own – his marijuana had been doctor-recommended and lawfully-obtained – he filed for unemployment compensation benefits. He was denied, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the decision. Beinor v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 262 P.3d 970 (Colo. App. 2011). Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court denied to review the case.

Under Colorado statutes “[t]he presence in an individual’s system, during working hours, of not medically prescribed controlled substances” disqualifies that employee from benefits. Beinor had THC metabolites, the non-psychoactive reside of marijuana – in his system during working hours. But he thought he was safe because it had been medically recommended to him. Unfortunately, the written documentation physicians provide their patients recommending medical use of marijuana is specifically not a “prescription”. This is where federal law comes into play.

Doctors across the country must be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to lawfully prescribe medication. However, because of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, registered doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, but only recommend it. Indeed, their recommendations must clearly state, “[t]his assessment is not a prescription for the use of marijuana.” Thus, Beinor’s medical marijuana was considered “not medically prescribed.”

In the grand scheme of things, legal technicalities such as whether a doctor’s written recommendation is considered a “prescription” wouldn’t matter if Beinor and other patients had a constitutional right to use marijuana. However, the majority of the Colorado Court of Appeals in Beinor did not interpret Amendment 20, Colorado’s original medical marijuana law passed in 2000, to grant that right. Instead, it determined Amendment 20 only created limited exceptions to state criminal laws for patients, primary caregivers, and physicians concerning the medical use of marijuana.

The Court pointed specifically to a clause in Amendment 20 that reads: “Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.” As Judge Gabriel, who dissented from the majority, astutely pointed out, Beinor never used marijuana in his work place, and that provision does not logically include “the presence of marijuana in one’s blood after the lawful use of medical marijuana at home.” Judge Gabriel further observes that, under such an interpretation of the law, “many patients who are eligible to use medical marijuana would likely abandon their right to do so, because even lawful use at home would put their benefits, and perhaps even their jobs, at risk.”

The majority’s decision has significantly deteriorated the rights and protections that medical marijuana patients believed they had. On a positive note, there is another case before the Colorado Supreme Court, regarding a patient whose probation was revoked due to his lawful, medical use of marijuana. If the Supreme Court grants review to that case, it may be able to begin reversing a dangerous growing trend of discrimination against medical marijuana patients, perpetuated by the Court of Appeals.

Another way to solidify the rights of patients would be the passage of Amendment 64, the Act to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which Coloradans will vote on in November. Unlike the medical marijuana amendment, whose ambiguous language left it vulnerable to manipulation, Amendment 64 clearly declares adult use of marijuana to be legal, thereby circumventing any restrictive interpretation such as was seen in the Beinor.

Brian Vicente, Esq., is a founding member of Vicente Consulting, LLC, a law firm providing legal solutions for the medical marijuana community. He also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado, the state’s leading non-profit working for medical marijuana patients and providers. Brian is the chair of the Denver Mayor’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel, serves on the Colorado Department of Revenue Medical Marijuana Oversight Panel, and coordinates the Colorado Bar Association’s Drug Policy Project.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Spark the Discussion: Hemp for Victory

“Spark the Discussion” is a monthly Legal Connection column highlighting the hottest trends in the emerging field of medical marijuana law. This column is brought to you by Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a full-service, community-focused medical marijuana law firm.

By Brian Vicente, Esq. and Rachelle Yeung

In the final weeks of the Colorado legislative session, while House Democrats and Republicans were fiercely battling over same-sex civil unions, a landmark piece of drug policy reform legislation snuck through the Legislature nearly unopposed. The “Hemp Bill,” or HB 12-1099, sets up the framework for the study and use of industrial hemp, and seeks to use this “taboo” crop to clean up contaminated soil through a process called phytoremediation.

The passage of the Hemp Bill is a victory in a 70-year long battle against the prohibition of marijuana and a turning point towards a more sensible approach to drug policy. The regulation of marijuana is a topic of increasing importance to Colorado voters because of Amendment 64, the statewide ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol, which will be voted on in November. Amendment 64 would also make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.

Historically, hemp production was encouraged in the United States – from being one of the most important crops in colonial America to being promoted by the federal government in a World War II film called “Hemp for Victory.” However, growing hemp has been outlawed since the Controlled Substances Act, because of its close association with marijuana.

Though it shares the same genus (“Cannabis sativa L.”) as its better-known cousin, industrial hemp is distinguished from marijuana by its low concentration of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC. Industrial hemp contains no more than three-tenths of a percent of THC.

Several factors make Colorado a particularly compelling candidate for hemp-based phytoremediation. Extensive mining throughout the state has left vast tracts of land contaminated with toxic waste. Phytoremediation would remove those toxins from the ground, which could then be used for agriculture and cattle grazing which are cornerstones of the state’s economy. Finally, a plant requiring very little water to grow – like hemp – is a necessity in a water-constrained state like Colorado.

The use of industrial hemp in phytoremediation is not entirely novel. In 1986, the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant caused severe radioactive contamination in areas up to 100 km away. Soil in that area became saturated with toxic waste and heavy-metals which rendered it useless for agriculture. In 1998, a group called PHYTOTECH began growing hemp in the area to decontaminate the soil and, according to Slavik Dushenkov, a research scientist with the company, “Hemp prov[ed] to be one of the best phytoremediative plants we have been able to find.”

Activists hope that phytoremediation is just the introduction of industrial hemp into mainstream use. Hemp is cheap and easy to grow, requiring few pesticides and no herbicides. It can be used in textiles, construction materials, paper products, and even body care products. Hemp seed is considered a “superfood” – a good source of protein and dietary fiber, high in B-vitamins and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp can even be reduced to ethanol and biofuel, a boon to our petroleum-addicted society. Some activists go so far as calling hemp “the plant that could save the world.”

A similar bill was introduced in the Colorado Legislature in 1994 by then-Senator Loyd Casey, but received only a single, sad vote before disappearing into history. If Governor Hickenlooper gives this year’s HB-1099 his stamp of approval – and given its support in the Legislature, there is no reason he would not – Colorado could become the first state in the nation to grow industrial hemp since the 1930s.

Brian Vicente, Esq., is a founding member of Vicente Consulting, LLC, a law firm providing legal solutions for the medical marijuana community. He also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado, the state’s leading non-profit working for medical marijuana patients and providers. Brian is the chair of the Denver Mayor’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel, serves on the Colorado Department of Revenue Medical Marijuana Oversight Panel, and coordinates the Colorado Bar Association’s Drug Policy Project.The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.