Medical marijuana activists want revenue dept. to re-open MMJ committee to public application

Cannabis Therapy Institute's Laura Kriho and Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers' Robert Chase succeeded in getting the Department of Revenue to postpone the first meeting of its new medical marijuana advisory working group because it wasn't open to the public. But they don't want to stop there. The activists are now calling for the DOR to "re-open their Advisory Committee appointments to a public application process."

Moreover, a CTI release compares the revenue department's approach unfavorably to that of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, an agency MMJ activists have regularly excoriated for blocking public participation -- as in an alleged "emergency" meeting in November whose actions were subsequently tossed out by Judge Larry Naves after attorneys filed a court complaint.

Granted, the health department's process wasn't perfect. Among those initially selected for its MMJ advisory body was Ken Weaver, a plane-stealing Texan who made up a fake life. Weaver later resigned from the committee.

Even so, the Cannabis Therapy Institute believes the revenue department's method of working-group selection was considerably more problematic, declaring, "The creation of a hand-picked board causes the appearance of impropriety."

Look below to read the rest of the CTI release:

Dept. of Revenue Cancels Secret Medical Marijuana Meetings

{Denver} -- The Colorado Department of Revenue canceled a secret meeting of a government advisory board that had been scheduled for Wednesday after medical cannabis activists protested that these meetings are subject to Colorado's Sunshine Law, also known as the Colorado Open Meetings Act. This requires that any meeting of any public body be "open to the public at all times."

Read the Westword article about the meeting cancellation.

Activists discovered the plans for secret meetings last week when Matt Cook, head of the Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, was asked if he was planning on appointing an advisory committee similar to the committee appointed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). Matt Cook responded that he had already appointed the committee and that the meetings would not be open to public observation because "we would not be able to get anything done."

Apparently, the Department of Revenue had quietly selected a 25-person Advisory Committee over the past several weeks to advise them on the hundreds of new rules that the Department of Revenue needs to promulgate to enact the new Colorado Medical Marijuana Code (formerly part of HB 10-1284) over the next year. You can see the members here.

According to e-mails from Matt Cook, the Department of Revenue then intended to meet with this Advisory Committee in private until they had a set of regulations to share with the rest of the industry. Only at that point would they make the rulemaking process public and allow other interested parties to observe.

However, the Colorado Sunshine Law requires that any meetings by any advisory board be open to the public at all times. The Cannabis Therapy Institute pointed this out to the Department in several emails over the course of the last few days. Originally, the Department claimed this meeting was exempt from the Open Meetings Act. However, on Tuesday evening, after discussion with the Department's legal team, Matt Cook decided to cancel the Wed. meeting. He told CTI, "In light of the concerns about this meeting, I will reschedule at a later date and give you Notice." Presumably, this means the Department will now comply fully with the Open Meetings Act and give public notice of the meeting and as well as allow public observation.

However, it is unclear how the Department of Revenue appointed these board members in the first place. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) recently appointed their Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee. The CDPHE went through a process where they allowed the public to apply for positions on the Committee. They then reviewed over 100 applications before they selected the candidates and announced them in a press release on July 16. The first Advisory Committee meeting was open to the public.

Why did Matt Cook decide to hand-pick his advisory board and not allow other members of the industry to apply for these positions? The Department of Revenue just received $7 million in state application fees from over 1,000 different dispensaries, manufacturers and growers. Surely, some of these parties deserve a chance to apply for a position on the Advisory Board that will help decide how the medical marijuana industry in Colorado is regulated.

The Department of Revenue is not off to a good start in showing accountability and transparency in its rulemaking process. On Monday, the Department called its first-ever rulemaking meeting as an "emergency" meeting, which allowed them to get around the public notice and comment period, where no real emergency was discussed.

According to Senator Chris Romer, the main proponent of Colorado's new medical marijuana law, the Department of Revenue was chosen to run the medical marijuana program instead of the CDPHE because the CDPHE had proven that they were antagonistic to the medical marijuana law over the years. The Department of Revenue was supposed to fix that problem and be better and more competent than the CDPHE at implementing the law.

Given this, we would like the Department of Revenue to strive for the highest standards with their rulemaking authority, and with all the other authorities that they have over the medical marijuana program.

Members of the Cannabis Therapy Institute and the Colorado Coalition for Patients and Caregivers are calling on the Department of Revenue to re-open their Advisory Committee appointments to a public application process, just as the CDPHE did for their advisory committee. The creation of a hand-picked board causes the appearance of impropriety.

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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