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Colorado General Assembly 1998 Ballot Proposals

Colorado General Assembly, Legislative Council

Analysis of 1998 Ballot Proposals

The Legislative Council takes no position with respect to the merits of the proposals. In listing the "arguments for" and "arguments against," the Council is merely describing the arguments relating to the proposals. The quantity or quality of the "for" or "against" paragraphs listed for the proposals should not be interpreted as an indication of the Legislative Council position.

Amendment 19


The proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution:

  • allows patients diagnosed with a serious illness and their care-givers to legally possess marijuana for medical purposes. Care-givers could determine dosage strength and frequency of use;
  • allows individuals charged with possession or use of marijuana to defend themselves on the grounds that they are in legal possession for medical purposes;
  • establishes an exception to the state's criminal laws for physicians to provide written recommendations, other than a prescription, for patients to use marijuana for medical purposes;
  • requires the Governor to identify a state agency to establish a confidential state registry of patients and their care-givers who are permitted to possess marijuana for medical purposes;
  • allows possession of two ounces of usable marijuana and six marijuana plants, and provides an exception to those limits if medically necessary;
  • prohibits the medical use of marijuana by patients less than 18 years of age except under certain conditions;
  • provides that distribution of marijuana by anyone would still be illegal;
  • provides that health insurance companies do not have to reimburse patients for the medical use of marijuana; and
  • allows employers to prohibit the medical use of marijuana in the workplace.


Federal law lists marijuana as a controlled substance that has no accepted medical use in the United States. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, a federal law enforcement agency. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, some chemically altered forms of amphetamines, and several other forms of hallucinogens. In 1976, federal law approved limited research to investigate use of marijuana for medical purposes. Under the research program the federal Drug Enforcement Administration approved distribution of marijuana to program participants. Fifteen patients with a variety of illnesses, and under the care of different physicians, originally participated in the program, which was suspended in 1992. Eight of the original patients are still receiving marijuana for medical use. There are no known study results published by the physicians who participated in this program. Since 1976, many drugs have been developed to treat the conditions originally assumed to be treatable with smoked marijuana. In addition, the hallucinogenic content of street marijuana has increased 400 to 500 percent since the experiments in the 1970s.

Similar to the federal law, in 1981, Colorado law provided for a program that would have allowed life-threatened cancer and glaucoma patients who did not respond to conventional drugs to use marijuana for medical purposes. The program, which was never implemented, was repealed from state law in 1995.

Current Colorado law prohibits the possession, distribution, and use of marijuana. Passage of this measure would legalize registered patient possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes in Colorado; however, it would still be illegal to distribute marijuana. The proposed measure does not provide enforcement mechanisms, and would require the General Assembly to adopt legislation to establish controls and the identification registry.

Arguments For

1) Independent studies have shown that marijuana relieves the pain and suffering of patients with serious illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, HIV, and glaucoma. Components of the marijuana plant reduce patient suffering by relieving nausea and enhancing appetite. Since marijuana has medical benefits, physicians should be able to legally recommend, and patients should be able to legally use, marijuana for medical purposes.

2) The measure provides sufficient state oversight of the medical use of marijuana to prevent use for recreational purposes. The oversight is provided through a confidential patient registry which will be maintained by a designated state health agency. The state health agency is permitted to share information contained in the registry with law enforcement officials only to verify that individuals arrested for the possession or use of marijuana are listed on the registry.

Arguments Against

1) There is no requirement for a prescription, or any quality control or testing standards for marijuana, and no control over strength, dosage, or frequency of use, such as those required for other medicinal drugs. The amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, varies in every marijuana plant. Care-givers are not medically trained. Marijuana is an addictive drug that causes negative health effects and should be subject to testing by the federal Food and Drug Administration to be legalized for prescription use. Legalization of marijuana is unnecessary because of the availability of the synthetic drug Marinol, which has been found to relieve nausea and increase appetite. Marinol has been approved, and is regulated by, the Food and Drug Administration for prescription.

2) The amendment is worded to allow anyone, not just the seriously ill, to smoke marijuana. Because the measure does not provide a precise description of what qualifies as a serious illness, anyone with chronic or severe pain may be immune from prosecution for marijuana possession and use. The workload of state law enforcement officials will increase because they will be required to check the state registry every time an individual is arrested for marijuana possession or use.