After the state auditor's dismal evaluation of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, members of the Amendment 64 Joint Committee were expected to have some negative things to say to Barbara Brohl, the executive director of the Department of Revenue and overseer of the MMED. But when the opportunity came Thursday morning at the Capitol, the tone instead was formal and inquisitive. Rather than lambaste Brohl, the committee sought to understand exactly why the MMED performed so poorly. According to Brohl, it all comes down to funding. Over the last year and a half, the MMED has learned some important lessons, Brohl said. "The first thing we discovered with that deep-dive analysis was that our revenue projections were too optimistic, and we were experiencing a shortfall in our cash fund," she continued. "The second thing we discovered was that our expenses needed to be addressed."
Some of those expense cuts included the paring of the division down to fifteen employees and the loss of several vehicles used by the division in its inspection and investigation efforts. Brohl acknowledged the extensive backlog of license applications -- 650. But in order to reach an operating funding level, the MMED began to require those application fees to be paid up front, rather than on a per-review basis.
According to Brohl, the MMED currently operates on a budget of $2.4 million, less than half of the initial $5.7 million under which the division used to operate. Representative Brian DelGrosso questioned whether or not the division could continue to function on its current budget, and if not, what Brohl would estimate to be an operational level of funding.
"Right now, that goes to support only fifteen individuals, eight of which are criminal investigators, and as a result, we are able to do the background checks, the analysis to do the initial type of work that's done," she said. "But we have not been able to go out and do the very proactive investigatory compliance checks that this industry and this division contemplated.
"We believe that a good estimate is the amount of money we were appropriated, which is the $5.7 million, but I caution you that that's not the only thing the additional sales tax was intended to support."
Brohl went on to say that the sales tax was also implemented to fund studies for recommendations and increased addiction counseling, as well as informational campaigns for children and schools.
Although the committee repeatedly asked for financial projections regarding the coming years for the MMED, Brohl pointed out that without knowing exactly how many businesses will be applying for licenses, it is difficult to provide accurate estimates.
These vagaries are exactly what the committee hopes to address by implementing a tax structure per the recommendations of the Amendment 64 task force, including an additional sales tax for recreational marijuana. The final decision on taxation will have to be completed by Monday, April 8.
The Amendment 64 Joint Committee will meet once again Friday at 1:30 p.m. to continue discussions. The chair, Representative Dan Pabon, added the committee would meet over the weekend if necessary, although he hopes to finish before then.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Amendment 64 Joint Committee extends meetings due to failed MMED audit."