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Colorado 'medi-pot' issue splits SSDI from SSI; New Jersey voters nix mixing jobless, disability funds

Today we start a two-part look at a smorgasbord of  topics, from serious but surprising to surprisingly serious. According to an October blog in Denver's alt-paper/online site, medical marijuana has become a sore spot between state officials and  indigent patients, including those with AIDS. Some patients receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits; some receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI); and some receive neither.

MMJ = medical marijuana: Indigents' costs hotly contested

In Colorado, part of the medicinal pot eligibility process involves getting the original prescription--about which, more later--and another part is paying an annual $90 registry license fee in order to make purchases. The Cannabis Institute maintains the license fee is too high for all patients--not to mention the poor--and sent a letter to the state Board of Health demanding a reduction from $90 to $10 on the license-fee for all patients who have received proper prescriptions. At this point, let's back up for a second to explain that according to various reports, Colorado's med-pot system has already brought in significant revenue for the state.

Governor wanted 'to steal' from registry fund to cover General Fund

Significant enough that the governor proposed transferring a significant portion of licensee-fee revenues to cover shortfalls in other areas of the state budget, even though a state amendment seems to make that illegal. Here's how it was written at another DenverWestword blog: "In August, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter expressed his intention to steal $9 million out of the patient registry fund and transfer it to the state's General Fund to help alleviate budget shortfalls in other areas of government." (For attribution's sake, the blog cites this link to an Aug. 24 post by CTI: Widespread examples of revenue increases This is, perhaps, not yet background enough on the money involved. Besides the patient registry, various Colorado communities have seen revenue boosts not only from dispensary and grower fees but also from sales taxes, warehouse rental/lease space and associated construction (including permits, inspections and often specific, custom build-out requirements). Even newspaper advertising has benefited. OK, so here's the lede from that Oct. 21 blog in Westword: "Yesterday, the board of health considered lowering medical marijuana license fees for indigent patients -- and wound up eliminating them for those who qualify. "Problem is, the criteria used to determine indigency leaves out many people in need -- including AIDS-patient Damien LaGoy, who says he can't afford to renew his license, which expires in two days. 'This may be my last interview,' he says."

AIDS patient reportedly mispeaks

LaGoy waited to testify while the committee discussed procedures for ongoing rulings of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana licenses, ultimately deciding to shelve that discussion until January. By mid-afternoon when he got his turn, the weary AIDS patient says he was worn out, "out of breath" and "couldn't talk very long." Confused and trying to speak quickly, he "told the board he collects $917 each month -- $14 more than the amount that would have qualified him as indigent by an estimate he shared with the Denver Post. He subsequently realized that he'd transposed the numbers and actually gets $719 a month. But he still doesn't qualify, he says, due to the way the board decided to determine indigency." As explained in both the blog and in that Denver Post article, the crucial factors that emerged made distinctions among SSDI, food stamps and SSI program recipients. And it wasn't only the advocates who were upset--even some board members were chagrined. From the Post: " .  . . the standard the board approved for determining who is poor enough to qualify for the program upset medical-marijuana advocates, who said some indigent patients will still be stuck with a bill. And even some board members expressed frustration that the health department — which has received millions of dollars in application fees since the medical-marijuana program began — couldn't put together a program that includes more patients.
" 'I just think with however many millions of dollars, we could have done a better job,' said board member Joelle Riddle." This is such a complex issue that much more space would be needed to cover all the points and counterpoints. However, for anyone seriously interested, enough links have been provided herein to allow further research into the rapidly changing developments for those affected in states where "MMJ" has become a hot topic. Be assured, though, we will continue to monitor and report on this emerging issue.

New Jersey voters reject funds transfers

Now we turn to a related topic: Similar to the attempt to transfer Colorado MMJ funds to cover shortfalls in other parts of the state budget, New Jersey voters on Election Day slammed attempts to "Rob Peter, Pay Paul" at the expense of unemployment and disability funds. First, let's look at a Nov. 2 post at, from the state house correspondent: "New Jersey voters today overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that will ensure the money workers pay into the unemployment and temporary disability funds can’t be used to plug future holes in the state budget. "The vote on the sole statewide ballot question will prevent the governor and the 120-member legislature from using the funds for anything other than their intended purpose: to help people who can’t find a job or who physically cannot work."

Wall Street Journal: 'mealy-mouthed' wording

To get an idea of how big a deal this vote was --and how confusing the wording was on the ballot-- consider this pre-election piece from a blog at The Wall Street Journal: "New Jersey voters are being asked whether to prevent state politicians from dipping into unemployment, disability and other funds to balance the budget. But the mealy-mouthed wording of the ballot question appeared to puzzle voters. "The question reads:
Shall the amendment to Article VIII, Section II of the State Constitution, agreed to by the Legislature, which: prohibits collection by the State of assessments based solely on employee wages and salaries for any purpose other than providing employee benefits; dedicates all employer and employee contributions collected for any employee benefit fund, and all returns on investments of those contributions, to the purpose of that fund; and prohibits any transferring, borrowing, appropriating or using of those contributions or returns for any other purpose, be approved?
"Voting yes would tie politicians’ hands and prevent them from dipping into the funds for other purposes."

Problems with wording--and the 'help text'

Well, as the post attests, voters did indeed figure it out, with help from various sources, but the WSJ post also includes this quote from a retired engineer and an attorney: " 'The interpretive statement was harder to understand than the question,' said Mike Mastro, 73 years old, a retired engineer in West Windsor. “ 'I’m an attorney and I didn’t understand it,' says Mike Meduski, a father of two. 'I didn’t understand the ballot question or the interpretive statement. They made no sense to me.' ” Too often, such is life with unemployment and disability issues. Way too often. Surprisingly serious and seriously surprising: Hollywood? Really?