Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation folds: Betty Aldworth unable to restore its rep

Late 2009 saw the birth of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, which set out to lobby the legislature regarding MMJ bills. But shortly after the May passage of HB 1284, the main regulatory measure, CMMR imploded, with various parties accusing each other of financial improprieties and more. Betty Aldworth tried to revive CMMR a few months later, but it was not to be. It shut down last week -- and here's why.

"After the passage of 1284 and 109" -- the latter a bill that set out to clarify the relationship between medical marijuana doctors and patients -- "there was clearly more work to do on the rules-work group and at the legislature," Aldworth says. "After any piece of legislation passes, it has to be fine-tuned to make sure patients and businesses are protected. And given the opportunity by virtue of my consulting business to start an organization or reinvigorate CMMR, I decided to try to reinvigorate CMMR."

From the beginning, Aldworth knew this would be a difficult task. With allegations going back and forth between CMMR executive director Matt Brown and Apothecary of Colorado co-owner Wanda James on one side and Peace in Medicine owner Josh Stanley and attorney Brett Barney on the other, contributors began to wonder if their money was being well spent.

Meanwhile, some marijuana advocates felt that CMMR was more interested in assisting high-rolling donors at the expense of patients and smaller mom-and-pop dispensaries. Aldworth believes this was a bad rap -- but she acknowledges that critics spread such allegations far and wide.

With these challenges in mind, Aldworth gave herself six months beginning on August 1 to make CMMR a viable player again. But too much damage had been done.

In August, "based on what I knew about my own personal finances and what I was able to do, I thought CMMR had something worth saving," she notes. "But ultimately, I spent more time fighting misconceptions than I did fighting for patient rights.

"The first step in rebuilding CMMR was to build a group of supporters who could give me input and support for what came next -- a solid plan to expand well beyond lobbying to collaboration with other organizations and the like."

In addition, she chose not to take a salary for that first six months, and paid some bills out of her own pocket, in an attempt to restore trust. "But people weren't willing to touch it. The turmoil in the organization and misconceptions that were built around that created a reputation for CMMR that was negative beyond repair." Despite making "an effort at transparency that was significant, and which went beyond what a lot of other organizations do to make sure there wasn't an appearance of impropriety, I realized after six months that it still hadn't worked.

"Sometimes people come in to play cleanup -- and I was one of those people. I had to decide whether or not the organization was worth saving or whether it should be shut down. That was my job, and in that, I feel I have succeeded. I did everything I could to save it, but in the end, it couldn't be saved."

What's next for Aldworth? She's started a business called Evolution Consulting, which will draw on her experience in the MMJ world. (Her new website is in place, but it's still in the construction phase.) In her words, "I'm offering a variety of services related to strengthening both advocacy organizations and also smaller advocacy groups as well as businesses in terms of developing policy and positive culture in wellness centers."

She may also pursue lobbying in the MMJ field, with an eye toward developing action plans and the like -- but even if she ultimately decides to move in another direction, she's certain she'll be keeping a close eye on legislation pertaining to the industry . "It's fascinating," she says. "It's important for patients in Denver, and since I'm a policy geek, I'm going to follow it."

In the meantime, Aldworth is confident that people in the industry will be able to draw distinctions between the first incarnation of CMMR -- the one that came apart in such vivid fashion -- from the way she ran the organization. In her words, "I hope any future employer or client will be able to see the difference."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana advocate praises Denver City Council regulations -- sort of."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts