Marijuana Enforcement Division head Laura Harris's retirement timing "poor to awful"?

In May, Governor John Hickenlooper signed several marijuana bills he said were "charting new territory" -- so new that emergency rules have been issued as placeholders until permanent regulations can be written and approved. But one of the people expected to be central to this process -- Laura Harris, head of the renamed Marijuana Enforcement Division -- has announced that she's retiring effective August 1. One activist fears the fallout of her decision could make an already messy process even more potentially chaotic.

"For those folks who are advising this industry or are part of this industry, the timing is poor to awful," says marijuana attorney Warren Edson. "You've got emergency rules, a new [recreational marijuana] industry being born, a relatively new [medical marijuana] industry being tweaked to run more efficiently, and not a whole lot of time to do it."

Meanwhile, Edson continues, "you've got the state and a bunch of counties and cities looking for some kind of leadership about how to adopt all of this. And now we've arguably lost one of the most accessible government heads of the industry -- someone who's been out there saying, 'Here's what we're going to do.'"

No question that Harris has been the target of criticism, particularly due to a damning audit of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Released in March, the document (on view below) blasts the MMED for ineffective oversight, as well as poor management of funds exemplified by this graphic showing nineteen consecutive months of net losses during fiscal years 2011 and 2012, much of it on Harris's watch; she took over in late 2011.

But when it came to communicating with MMJ stakeholders, Edson gives Harris high marks. He calls a January meeting to review proposed changes to medical marijuana regulation as surprisingly pleasant, with Harris proving open to discussion about proposals such as "removing live-feed cameras from dispensaries and simplifying the manifest process so the industry wasn't having to send quite as many documents and the state wasn't having to deal with receiving so many documents," he recalls.

Likewise, he praises Harris for considering what he sees as some common-sense alterations in rules, such as "moving part of the hash-making process from MIPs [Marijuana Infused Products] to OPCs [Optional Premises Cultivation].... Currently the OPCs -- the grows -- can only use ice, water and screens when making hash, but when you get into BHO or extraction, those are under the MIPs. Leaving them in both would be a massive change, but it's also kind of fair."

With Harris on her way out, however, there's no telling whether her successor will follow her lead on these or other matters. And plenty of more immediate issues have been left in limbo.

Continue for more about Marijuana Enforcement Division head Laura Harris's impending retirement, including multiple documents.
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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

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