Medical Marijuana

Is medical marijuana legal? Are dispensaries/medical marijuana centers legal?  We attempt to answer some of the more basic questions about the legality of medical marijuana, as concerns patients, caregivers and “dispensaries.”  The information set forth below concerns only Colorado law.  Marijuana, medical or otherwise, remains illegal under federal criminal law.  Anyone who exercises their Colorado medical marijuana rights must do so know that they are committing a violation of federal criminal law at their own risk.


Colorado law permits possession of medical marijuana by a patient and a primary caregiver on behalf of a patient. No other possession, distribution or cultivation of medical marijuana is permitted.  All marijuana activities, medical or otherwise, are illegal under federal law.

In order to qualify, a medical marijuana patient must (1) suffer from a chronic or debilitating medical condition; (2) which condition is diagnosed by a licensed Colorado physician; and (3) the physician believes that the patient might benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Once these conditions are met, a patient may apply for a medical marijuana registry card and legally possess and cultivate marijuana. A patient may possess up to two ounces of medical marijuana and 6 plants. However, the law precludes public consumption and consumption which endangers the health or well-being of others, among other things. Patients who adhere to these guidelines are exempt from state criminal prosecution.

Primary Caregivers

A primary caregiver is a person who has significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a medical marijuana patient. In addition to providing medicine, duties can also include making medical appointments and assisting the patient with compliance with state regulations. In advising my clients, I tell my clients to think of care giving as though you were caring for an ailing parent or grandparent.

Next, a primary caregiver may possess up to two ounces of marijuana and 6 marijuana plants on behalf of the patient. The amount of marijuana and plants are considered collectively between the patient and primary caregiver. Accordingly, a patient who assigns his right to cultivate 6 plants cannot
simultaneously grow the plants themselves.

Medical Marijuana Centers, aka Dispensaries

In May 2010, the state enacted HB1284, now C.R.S. 12-43.3-101, et. seq, “The Colorado Medical Marijuana Code” created a business entity called a Medical Marijuana Center. The code provides greater legal protection for businesses, their employees and, as a result, the patients. However, the protection comes at a cost. Among them is the elimination of the grower as a seperate business. All MMJ must be grown and sold by a Medical Marijuana Center. The grow and retail aspects must be handled by the MMC itself, in locations approved by the local government where the grow and retail premises are located. Finally, the primary caregiver was preserved, but eliminated as a business. The primary caregiver can only serve five patients and must provide the medicine for cost only. On the positive side, the primary caregiver exist only at the will of the patient, not the state. Please refer to our blogs for further analysis of this sweeping change in Colorado medical marijuana law.


In order to be protected from criminal prosecution, medical marijuana patients and their caregivers must strictly adhere to the narrow protection afforded by Colorado’s medical marijuana laws. Common sense and knowledge of the law is necessary to avoid potential prosecution. Be warned that the laws are confusing (even to lawyers), complicated and often silent on key issues. If you have any questions, I suggest speaking with a qualified attorney to help you understand and comply with the law.