We are a state struggling to enforce medical marijuana regulations, but because of budget cuts and spending abuse , our Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has had to curtail it’s acclaimed seed-to-sale tracking system. Field investigators were supposed to be able to walk into any dispensary or grow operation and use a digital reader to collect data on each bar-coded plant, clone or pot-infused lollypop, but budget cuts have curtailed their efforts. A seed-to-sale monitoring system does not exist for Colorado commercial growers. Our regulatory system had been held up as a model for all US states to follow, but challenges brought about by a system starting from scratch, lack of state funding, staff cutbacks and overspending have brought sharp criticism from state legislators and auditors.
It all began in 2009, when a successful court challenge caused Colorado state health department officials to drop efforts to cap how many patients a caregiver/grower may have, and the deputy US attorney general signaled that the federal government was unlikely to crack down on medical marijuana. The rule book put in place by the Colorado Department of Revenue mandated costly fees, criminal background checks, proof of residency in the state, and years of financial statements from potential commercial growers. Business owners were required to send the state shipping manifests and blanket their operations with surveillance cameras, showing they were growing a minimum of 70% of the cannabis they sold. Initially, eight million in application fees were taken in by the MMED in one weekend in the summer of 2010, almost all of it in cash, and the regulatory agency was off and running. But license applications dragged on as “many in the industry who had applied had issues in their background – back taxes, improper paperwork,” said Paul Schmidt, former deputy MMED director. Then state legislators put a moratorium on new business applications and slashed the MMED budget, so the money to operate the Division has dried up. The MMED has closed its three satellite offices, slashed staff from 37 to 15, and cut its field enforcement officers from 14 to 6 employees. The Division also has spent a quarter million on office furniture without competitive bidding and leased 33 sport utility vehicles without justification. To paraphrase MMED Spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait, We do have lack of resources, but we have people out there working 10 and 12 hour days, so there is regulation taking place. If there is something really egregious going on, we would know about it. “The large majority of owners in these businesses are doing the best they can to be compliant.” Make it so, Colorado.