Marijuana: Governor's counsel sees alleged Amendment 64 conflicts of interest as diversity

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In mid-December, we shared complaints from a marijuana activist about alleged conflicts of interest in regard to one member of the governor's Amendment 64 task force. More recently, the activist raised concerns about another task force member -- and this time, a guv rep responded with an e-mail suggesting that the group would be strengthened by a diversity of views. See the note and get details below.

Mark Slaugh, membership director of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council and CEO of a business called iComply, first targeted alleged conflicts involving Colorado Concern's Tamra Ward.

As we've reported, Ward signed three letters from business groups calling for the federal government to crack down on the very measure she's supposed to be working toward implementing.

The letters are on view below in their entirety, but here's an excerpt from the one addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:

The Colorado business community, as represented by the signatory organizations noted below, seeks clarity from the Department of Justice with regard to your intentions to enforce federal law under your prosecutorial discretion.

The provisions of Amendment 64 are in direct conflict with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and other provisions of federal law. The CSA clearly states that federal law preempts state law when there is a positive conflict between the two jurisdictions....

Consequently, we encourage the enforcement of the CSA, to provide the certainty and clarity of law we seek.

In Slaugh's view, Ward's endorsement of the letters -- hers was the first signature on them -- disqualified her for task force membership.

"Tamra signed off on a letter that's basically asking the federal government to come in and enforce the Controlled Substances Act not just on Amendment 64, but also on the hundreds of businesses in Colorado that are operating on medical cannabis centers," he told us for our original post.

"This action is contrary to the goals of these business groups," Slaugh added. "These groups are dedicated to increasing economic development for their regions and increasing job opportunities to strengthen our local economies. So her taking the position to essentially throw the industry under the federal bus threatens literally thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic stimulus that our industry has provided."

Ward subsequently denied Slaugh's assertions and remained on the committee.

But last week, the activist warned about perceived conflicts of interest pertaining to a more high-profile A64 task force rep.

Continue for more about potential conflicts of interest on the Amendment 64 Task Force. This time, Slaugh was worried about Dr. Christian Thurstone, an addiction specialist who sees dire consequences for Colorado's youth if marijuana becomes more available to an adult population.

Thurstone is also a principal in Project SAM, a national anti-legalization organization whose best known member is former Congressman Patrick Kennedy. The organization launched in Denver last month.

The Project SAM connection represents "a clear conflict of interest and willful disregard for the principle he's agreed to in sitting on the Task Force," Slaugh wrote in a letter circulated last week. "The People of Colorado deserve productive dialogue, not secret agendas."

Language like that apparently inspired Jack Findlaw, legal counsel for Governor John Hickenlooper, to fire back, albeit in a very polite, very political way.

Findlaw's note to Slaugh doesn't mention Ward or Thurstone by name, but it stresses that Hick had no interest in staffing the task force exclusively with Amendment 64 boosters. The entire note can be seen below, but a key passage reads: "The Governor intentionally assembled a task force with representatives of many diverse perspectives and the working groups also include folks with various viewpoints on how to implement Amendment 64. I think the work of the task force will be enriched by this diversity."

Continue to see Slaugh's most recent letter about conflicts of interest, Jack Findlaw's reply and three letters signed by Tamra Ward calling for a federal crackdown on Amendment 64: Letter from Mark Slaugh about Dr. Christian Thurstone:

Hickenlooper Legal Team and Task Force,

The primary role of the Amendment 64 Task Force is clear and has been stated since the beginning and at most meetings:

Initially, I identified to you the nature of Tamara Ward's position in attempting to throw the existing medical cannabis industry and the will of Colorado Voters under the "federal bus" by asking them to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in Colorado shortly after passing A64. This was prior to her joining the task force. No clear reason was provided by the leadership of the task force about this conflict, but one can reason it was because she been appointed to the task force at the time of the letter. Indeed, as testified in the first Task Force meeting, she has never stepped foot into a Colorado commercial cannabis business so ignorance of the issue at hand could be plausible. If there is another reason, please let the People know as this conflict warrants an answer. A copy of this letter is here for your review. Here is a copy of the media report on the conflict previously reported to you.

Also at conflict in this letter is the Colorado Bankers' Association who signed off to enforce Federal Law over the State Constitution but who were consulted by the Tax, Funding, and Civil Law workgroup. From this consultation a decision on banking was made that fails to address the issue at a State level and that defers to Federal authorities. These are the same Federal authorities that the Bankers' Association asked to shut down the will of Colorado voters in November with no response. Clearly this is a conflicting message from this Association to the Feds. However, this private group is not appointed to enact the Will of the People and cannot be held accountable for these position changes.

Who falls under the purview of the leadership of this Task Force should be held accountable to the first principle role of the Task Force. Sworn to not conflict the Will of the People by debating the merits of marijuana legalization; it is a shock to see one member of the Task Force blatantly disregard this principle. It is clear that Dr. Christian Thurstone cannot set aside his differences prior to the election in opposing Amendment 64. In stark contrast, he has joined the board for Project SAM -- this "newly imaged" prohibitionist group has formed since the history votes in Colorado and Washington to attempt a dialogue at any answer to marijuana use EXCEPT legalization and regulation. Project SAM clearly states they do not believe marijuana legalization is a feasible answer and in taking this position Dr. Thurstone is directly debating the merits of Amendment 64 in public.

Dr. Thurstone publicly joined Project SAM during his tenure on Colorado's Amendment 64 Task Force. This is a clear conflict of interest and willful disregard for the principle he's agreed to in sitting on the Task Force. The People of Colorado deserve productive dialogue, not secret agendas. Please remove Dr. Christian Thurstone from the Amendment 64 Task Force as he is clearly and willfully in opposition to the Will of Voters and is in direct and stark contrast of the Primary Principle Role of the Task Force. If there is a reason otherwise, the People of Colorado deserve an answer.

Respectfully and Thankfully,

Mark H. Slaugh Chief Executive Officer iComply, LLC

Reply to Mark Slaugh from legal counsel Jack Findlaw:


Thanks for taking the time to share your concerns about the composition of the task force. Let me remind you that the task force charge is to identify the legal and policy issues that need to be resolved, and to offer suggestions and proposals for legislative, regulatory and executive actions to be taken, to implement Amendment 64.

The Governor intentionally assembled a task force with representatives of many diverse perspectives and the working groups also include folks with various viewpoints on how to implement Amendment 64. I think the work of the task force will be enriched by this diversity.

All task force members have agreed that, in their capacity as a task force member, they will work to find practical and pragmatic ways to implement Amendment 64 and to not engage in a debate about the merits of the new law. I know you have attended the task force meetings and thus you know that we have followed this directive in our meetings. Task force members are of course free to express their views on any issue outside of their task force participation. Again, I think this both/and approach will produce recommendations that are more valuable to the Governor, the General Assembly and the Attorney General than if the task force members were all of like mind.

Jack Finlaw Chief Legal Counsel

Office of Governor John W. Hickenlooper 136 State Capitol Denver, Colorado 80203

Business coalition's letter to the Department of Justice:

Letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

Business coalition's letter to President Barack Obama:

Letter to President Barack Obama

Business coalition's letter to Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers:

Letter to Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers

More from our Marijuana archive: "Amendment 64: Business organizations ask feds to clamp down on Colorado marijuana measure."

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