Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado's chief medical officer and executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment, is leaving at the end of the month. After serving in both roles for over five years, Wolk is moving to the private sector.
As head of one of the state's most powerful regulatory health departments, Wolk dealt with a variety of issues during his tenure, including legal marijuana's effects on Colorado, increasing oil and gas development and the recovery from 2013's historic floods across the state.
“It has been my privilege and honor to work for Governor Hickenlooper. He set out the goal to make Colorado the healthiest state, and I have tried to deliver on his vision,” Wolk said in an announcement regarding his resignation, released August 3. “Under his incredible leadership, the CDPHE has achieved nation-leading low teen pregnancy rates, reductions in methane and carbon emissions, and exemplary policy and programs regulating legalized adult-use marijuana.”
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As head of the state agency responsible for Colorado's MMJ registry, Wolk was open about his conflicts with the program; he's a pediatrician who received traditional medical training. "Part of that training is that marijuana is bad, illegal, and we counsel patients against using marijuana," he said during a 2017 interview. "In a regulatory role in a state that's legalized it, you have to park that as bias and be much more objective."
Like Hickenlooper, Wolk had a mixed relationship with marijuana advocates. He's been quick to rebuke critics who say legal pot has doomed the health and safety of Colorado, but he also drew the ire of medical marijuana patients and consumers for opposing measures that would've added new medical conditions to the state's list of qualifying MMJ conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and acute pain.
“Larry’s leadership and commitment to the environment and health of Colorado and our people is evident by across-the-board improvements. Our environment is cleaner and our people are healthier, thanks to Larry’s efforts,” Hickenlooper says in a statement. “During his tenure, Larry has been challenged by marijuana legalization, increasing oil and gas development and the domestic introductions of Ebola and Zika viruses, to name a few. His development of state plans to address these and other emerging issues are just a few examples of his impressive legacy.”
Wolk will move on to become chief medical officer for the Wonderful Company, which owns Teleflora flower delivery, POM juice, Fiji Water and Wonderful Almonds, among other brands. Current CDPHE deputy executive director Karin McGowan will become interim executive director of the department, while current deputy medical officer Tista Ghosh will handle chief medical officer duties through the end of Hickenlooper’s administration in January 2019.