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DENVER - An estimated 55,000 applicants are still waiting for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to process their medical-marijuana information, according to a spokesman.


That backlog is larger than the 53,038 medical-marijuana cards that had been approved by the department through mid-January 2010.


An estimated 108,000 to 114,000 applications - both approved and unapproved - have been received by the state's health office from 2000 through the beginning of October, said Mark Salley, communications director.


Health officials expect to be caught up with the backlog by the end of the year after hiring about 30 temporary staff, Salley said. Workers open all applications to make sure they're complete, but specific information isn't necessarily logged at that time, including information about which county or city each application comes from, Salley said. Incomplete applications are sent back to applicants, he said.


In a potentially related move, Colorado legislators approved some more specific rules about patient-caregiver relationships as they relate to medical marijuana this summer. Renewal rules also were tightened.


"We've seen a leveling off of the number of applications received," Salley said. "We don't know if we can attribute that to the annual certifications for the registries. People who applied last year are having to renew."


Boulder and Broomfield counties have more than 6,200, or 12 percent of the state's total medical-marijuana registrations, according to the state's statistics from January 2010. All together, the Denver metro area has about 60 percent of medical-marijuana registrations in the state.


An influx of applications for medical-marijuana cards became more like a flood at the state office in July 2009 after officials lifted the limit on the number of patients a caregiver could serve from five to an unlimited number.


Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000, which allows patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor's approval. Employers are not required to make any accommodation to employees who use the drug, based on language spelled out in the amendment.


Because of the backlog, applicants are allowed to use their own copies of notarized doctor approvals and mailing dates if they have not heard back from the state office after 35 days, Salley said.


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