Medical marijuana: Dept. of Revenue's Matt Cook stepping down, targets MMJ consulting

The Department of Revenue's Matt Cook worked with legislators to develop Colorado's medical marijuana laws and then headed up the writing of regulations to make them flesh, turning him into a national expert on the intersection of government and weed. He's shared his knowledge with other states in his official capacity, and he'll continue to do so as a private citizen. He's stepping down from DOR at the end of the month with an eye toward consulting on MMJ.

This isn't the first time Cook's left state work. "I actually retired in 2007 and was doing regulatory consulting back then," he notes, adding that "I'm a nationally recognized expert on the 21st Amendment," which repealed prohibition. "But they asked me to come back, not knowing this would be part of it."

What "this" might he be referencing? Medical marijuana, of course.

Cook's job as senior director of the enforcement line of business for the Department of Revenue involves management oversight of seven divisions: As he points out, "I'm responsible for gaming, alcohol and tobacco enforcement, dog and horse racing, the auto industry division, the Office of Safety and Security, which is a Homeland Security spinoff, and drivers' license hearings -- and I was also the chairman of the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority." The budget for all of this branches exceeds $53 million, and he oversees more than 200 staffers. Yet he admits that "when people hear my name, they associate me with cannabis in Colorado," which exploded in 2009, with the ripple effects still being felt.

Cook's not complaining. "This is absolutely one of the best jobs I've ever had, and one of the more rewarding experiences I've been involved with," he says.

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So why is he leaving? "I'm at the point in my career where it's no longer economically feasible for me to be employed," he notes, chuckling. "I have to give them money to stay employed. That's how PERA works.

"I'm in what's called an SESS position -- Senior Executive Salary Service," he continues. "It's an annually appointed contract position that reports to the cabinet. There are, I believe, seventy of them statewide that were all announced at the same time. And because of the economics, I did not reapply for my job."

Rumors are already circulating in the MMJ community that Chris Romer, who co-sponsored the main MMJ regulatory measures and just came up short to Michael Hancock in the Denver mayor's race, will replace Cook -- but that's not possible. "The executive director of the Department of Revenue has already gone through the application process with applicants," Cook says. "I don't know if they've settled on somebody at this point, but there have definitely been some very qualified applicants going forward."

Regarding consultation work, he points out that "I have a regulatory expertise that others can benefit from throughout the United States. Colorado has set the bar for many states to follow. There's a lack of federal activity in this area, and because of the transparency of the model we've engaged in, states are looking to us for expertise."

That's putting it mildly. Cook's already played host to officials from Arizona, Rhode Island, Maryland, Washington D.C., California, Montana, Vermont and South Dakota, whose MMJ initiative didn't go forward. And given the momentum in many other states to enact Colorado-style legislation on the subject, Cook could be very much in demand.

As he puts it: "If I can assist others, I'm happy to do so."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana: See final drafts of documents to regulate Colorado MMJ industry."

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