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Marijuana: Tamra Ward, repping employers on task force, says there's no "conflict of interest"

Yesterday, the Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64, charged with researching the many unanswered questions about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, met for the first time. But not before a marijuana activist objected to the involvement of Tamra Ward, who had signed onto a letter urging the feds to override Colorado's new law. But after the meeting, Ward told us that there's no conflict.

Since the passage last month of Colorado's Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol measure, which legalizes small amounts of recreational marijuana for adults, there has been much debate about how the contradictions between federal law and the state's new law are going to play out.

The task force meeting yesterday and the media covering it.
The task force meeting yesterday and the media covering it.
Sam Levin

Supporters and opponents alike have said they want clarity from the president and the Justice Department on what the feds are going to do, including whether they are going to actively enforce laws against marijuana use in Colorado. And there's still a lot of uncertainty, even though Obama said last week that targeting recreational users is not a priority.

Some groups concerned about 64 have gone beyond asking for clarity -- saying that they think the best kind of clarity would be the federal government cracking down on Colorado's new law and enforcing federal policy, which maintains that pot is illegal.

Earlier this month, a coalition of business groups sent federal officials a letter, urging the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado, essentially asking the feds to override 64.

Tamra Ward, president and CEO of Colorado Concern, a business alliance group, signed on to that letter. Ward has also been appointed to the governor's task force, which he announced last week when he officially signed 64 into law.

Just before the meeting began, we published a post about the concerns of Mark Slaugh, membership director of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, who says that Ward should not be on the task force since her signature on that letter shows that she essentially opposes implementation.

At the meeting, in fact, the co-chairs pointed out several times that the task force is charged with coming up with clear recommendations on implementation -- and its members were not there to debate the merits of legalization or of Amendment 64. And the A64 representative on the task force asked the group not to use the fear of federal enforcement as a tactic to avoid coming up with good policy advice on pushing forward with the measure.

After the lengthy event ended, we asked Ward for her take on the activist's complaints. She told us she hasn't seen Slaugh's letter, but said she is not concerned about any potential conflict of interest and recognizes her duties on the task force.

Continue for our interview with Tamra Ward.

"I think the executive order is very clear with regard to our responsibility here -- and that's focusing on the implementation of the law," Ward said. "I understand that. That's my responsibility and I'm here to represent employers in the process."

But does she hope the federal government does clamp down?

"I think that the intent of the letter was looking for clarity around the issue," she replied. "Like anything that's new, we're looking for some clarity. But I clearly understand my role and responsibility here...to play an active role in creating the framework to implement Amendment 64 in Colorado."

So does she think there's any conflict of interest?

"No, I don't. I think everyone around this table comes up with their own expectations and background on the issue and we set those aside to sit at this table," she told us.

At the meeting, Ward handed out a lengthy memo from Colorado Concern regarding a wide range of questions that business groups have about the implementation of Amendment 64, including workplace rules, federal contracts, drug testing, workers' compensation and more.

Here's the full memo from Colorado Concern.

Amendment 64 Business Question List

Continue for the original letter Ward signed and the complaint from Mark Slaugh.

Letter from business groups that Ward signed last month.

Department of Justice Letter

Letter from Mark Slaugh to Governor John Hickenlooper's legal counsel.

My name is Mark Slaugh and I work as the membership director for the largest cannabis industry organization in Southern Colorado. We are experienced in working with business owners and governments to ensure responsible implementation of Cannabis policy at the local level.

In reviewing your list of Legal Panel members that will be meeting Monday, a concern came up to an obvious conflict of interest with one of your members. I've attached a letter sent less than one month after the passage of Amendment 64 from a misinformed and reactionary group of business folks requesting the Department of Justice to subvert the will of the voters by enacting the CSA in Colorado.

As you'll see in the letter, Concern Colorado President and CEO Tamara Ward signed off on an invitation for the Federal Government to intervene in Colorado's new law. Unlike letters from your office seeking guidance, this letter attempts to literally throw the Colorado cannabis industry under the federal bus by requesting enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act. Anyone who signed this letter should not be on the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force.

As a business organization who has represented on panels with HR organizations on hiring practices regarding medical cannabis patients, we feel she is unqualified and misinformed on the cannabis issue. Her representation of employers as outlined in this letter is contrary to the Governor's' purpose of the task force. We have copied the media on this fact and ask that you reconsider Ms. Ward as the ideal representative for employers. Her personal position is not conducive to a productive task force working toward the interests of our members, our society, or the voters of Colorado.

Since small businesses comprise most of the job creation in Colorado, we would suggest a member who represents a small business coalition. These small enterprises account for 52 percent of all U.S. workers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and would be more representative of the employers of Colorado. These business people have not attempted to thwart the job creation and economic development of the Colorado Cannabis industry. Additionally, your board could use more representation from Southern Colorado as Dan Nordberg is the only person on the task force from our region. Perhaps the SBDC in Pueblo or Colorado Springs may be able to offer a more ideal representative.

Thank you for understanding this obvious conflict of interest, we look forward to your response.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana rescheduling not Amendment 64 "silver bullet," says Mason Tvert"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.