Responsibly Implementing Amendment 64

Executive Director Medical Marijuana Industry Group

Editor’s Note: The following message to members of the General Assembly appeared in an ad in the March 29 issue.

A year ago, the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division (MMED) announced that without additional funding it would be forced to lay off most of its staff. In response, my organization, the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, led the effort to pass an emergency funding bill, HB 1358, that passed the House but died in the Senate. The recently published MMED audit is the direct result of this inaction.

We share the General Assembly’s frustration that the enforcement division has not fully realized its regulatory goals. But without proper funding, the results of the MMED audit were inevitable.

Notwithstanding, the fundamentals of Colorado’s medical marijuana regulatory framework are sound, comprehensive, and the most developed of the country’s eighteen medical cannabis states. After seventy years of blanket prohibition and criminalization, growing pains are to be expected as our state has taken the lead nationally in developing a more rational approach to cannabis regulation.

After hundreds of hours of discussion by subject matter experts representing among others the General Assembly, District Attorney’s Council, Colorado Municipal League, AFL-CIO, Department of Health and Environment, Attorney General, Association of Chiefs of Police, State Public Defender, Colorado Concern, and Dr. Christian Thurston of SMART Colorado; the Governor’s Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64 recommended that Colorado continue with core components of the medical marijuana regulatory framework, including the seed-to-sale tracking program, and mandating that businesses cultivate the majority of the cannabis they sell in the retail stores. This last requirement is aimed at preventing illicit diversion and ensuring a tight closed-loop of production and distribution.

While the MMED needs to be supplied with tools to strictly enforce the law, significant deterrents are in place to ensure cannabis businesses remain compliant. The overwhelming majority of cannabis business owners are serious business people with significant investments; the freedom to operate their businesses is contingent upon unambiguous compliance with state law.

The Task Force has recognized the problems with implementing sound regulations that are not fully funded and has thus put forward the following recommendations to fully fund the adult use program. First, the marijuana business licensing fees should fund the full costs of the enforcement division.

Second, the General Fund should initially provide funding for enforcement to ensure that sufficient resources are available in the early stages of implementation.

Undoubtedly, a robust and fully funded marijuana regulatory agency is the cornerstone to the responsible implementation of Amendment 64. Conservative estimates show Colorado will save $12 million dollars this year in reduced criminal costs, and bring in tens of millions in new revenue from the income tax, payroll tax, state sales tax, local sales tax, and an excise tax if approved.

There is a clear path forward that involves enhanced regulation and full funding. Colorado voters resoundingly support cannabis rights. Please support and fund the regulatory framework, and help us ensure Colorado citizens are provided safe, legal access to this natural product that has been in the shadows for far too long.