A bill currently in the Colorado Legislature could shake up the current Marijuana Enforcement Division leadership and install a governor-appointed five-member commission to oversee the state agency after the current rules sunset in July 2016.
Under this proposal, sponsored by senators Pat Steadman and Chris Holbert, the governor-appointed commission would comprise one police officer with at least five years on the force, an attorney with at least five years of regulatory experience, an accountant with five years of experience in corporate finance, a “business person” with at least five years of management experience (not necessarily in the marijuana industry) and, finally, one random person who isn’t in any of the above four industries. Potential appointees must not have had any felony charges in the past ten years, and all must come from counties or cities that currently allow cannabis sales. No more than three candidates could be from the same political party, and all would have to be approved by the state Senate for a four-year term.
Steadman says the committee would work as an oversight committee and take on all official rulemaking, much the way the state gaming commission currently does for casinos in the state. He says the bill came about after hearing from business owners and members of the community that the state MED rulemaking is “hasty” and not always open to public comment. He says the division often holds emergency rulemaking sessions with no time for public notification or comment and sees its culture as “insular." He says his plan would slow things down and give everyone from business owners to residents more time for input.
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“I've heard a lot of anecdotes about things the MED has done and how they operate and whether or not it is as professional and predictable as it should be,” he tells Westword. “For business, providing a stable regulatory environment is important. I don't know if they have had that same concern about consistency.”
The governor’s office is currently looking into the proposal but hasn’t weighed in on it either way, Steadman says.
The commission would essentially take over the leadership of the Marijuana Enforcement Division. Its duties would include creating new rules for the medical and retail pot industry; conducting hearings on rule violations by license holders; setting up background checks for licensing; issuing licenses; and a notable mandate to “continuously study and investigate medical and retail marijuana to determine if there are defects in the regulatory scheme or abuses in the administration and operation of the state licensing authority and to make changes to the regulatory scheme."
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SB 15-263 wouldn’t completely repeal all rules currently in place for medical and recreational cannabis, though it does make it sound like the commission could go over all of the regs currently in place and repeal or amend them to “prevent abuses” of the system. Most of the language of the 67-page bill shifts the powers and responsibilities from the MED director — currently Lewis Koski — to the commission. Members would have to meet at least once a month, and any rules they make would not require the approval of the Department of Revenue, which includes the MED. They would be paid $100 per day for a maximum of $10,000 each year; the governor would have the authority to remove them at any time.
While the state has to come up with some sort of fix to address the current medical marijuana laws that sunset in July 2016, Jessica LeRoux, the cannabis activist best known for her Twirling Hippy Confections cheesecakes, says she sees Steadman’s bill as a slap in Koski’s face – the MED hasn’t had the best track record thus far, with a failed audit in 2013 and multiple leadership changes.
The bill is currently in the Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee and is set for its first hearing on April 22.