DENVER – A judge overturned tight restrictions Tuesday on Colorado medical marijuana providers, saying state health officials had ignored the needs of patients and violated open meetings laws while imposing the rules.
The ruling by Denver District Judge Larry Naves means medical marijuana providers can continue supplying the drug to registered users without having to provide any other care, as a state Board of Health vote last week would have required.
It was another setback for health officials struggling to regulate Colorado's growing medical marijuana industry, which sprang up after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000.
Colorado now has at least 11,000 people registered with the state as medical marijuana users.
Naves was sharply critical of the Board of Health and at times appeared impatient with arguments by Anne Holton, a first assistant attorney general representing the board.
"Did this board ever think about the impact on the health of people like these people here?" he asked, referring to a medical marijuana user and provider in the courtroom who had challenged the new requirements.
Holton said the board was only trying to clarify restrictions for users and providers alike, and the action was only temporary while officials settled on long-term requirements.
"It's not temporary if you're trying to down 30 pills," Naves retorted, referring to testimony by a patient in an older, related case who said he can't keep his numerous medications down without marijuana.
The latest skirmish over regulation began in August, when the health board decided anyone who supplies marijuana to a registered user meets the criteria to be an authorized caregiver.
Last month, however, the state Court of Appeals ruled in a criminal case that a woman convicted of marijuana charges didn't qualify as a caregiver because she provided only the drug and no other health services, as some other states require.
The Board of Health then suspended its August decision and temporarily accepted the stricter requirements set by the Court of Appeals.
Attorney Richard Corry asked Naves to stop the move, saying the board didn't give enough public notice of the meeting.
Corry also argued that the Court of Appeals judges said their ruling applied only to the criminal case.
Naves agreed, saying the court ruling didn't apply to the state's requirements. He also ruled the board didn't give enough public notice to comply with state law.
Holton didn't know if the state would appeal.
The Board of Health previously scheduled a Dec. 15 meeting on the same issue.