More bureaucracy won’t create better marijuana regulation

What would happen to recreational marijuana regulation in Colorado if the taxpayers failed to pass the 15 percent tax on pot products when it goes to the ballot next fall?

While that is not a likely scenario, as the public becomes more aware of the massive debacle made of efforts to regulate the medical marijuana industry, Coloradans might be reluctant to put a great deal more money on the line for enforcing rules for recreational pot.

The history of medical marijuana regulation in Colorado so far has been one big flat bust for the state and a high time for those who smoke it. While smokers generally seem to have been model citizens, the bureaucrats paid to regulate them lavished all their budget on luxuries for themselves, while proving incompetent to fulfill their responsibilities.

A recent legislative audit revealed that the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division has “not adequately defined the oversight activities it must perform, or determined the resources needed to regulate the 1,440 medical marijuana businesses in the state.”

The key to the Colorado medical marijuana enforcement plan was a much-promoted “seed-to-sale” tracking system to verify that medical marijuana was grown and distributed according to law with strict transparency. Each plant was to be electronically tagged, then tracked by computer and television cameras from planting to harvest to sale.

As the audit reports, “review forms designed to track medical marijuana activities and inventories and to ensure that medical marijuana is not being diverted from the system” were never actually reviewed by the enforcement staff.

State Auditor Dianne Ray admitted, “The envisioned ‘seed-to-sale’ model does not currently exist in Colorado.”

In addition to their regulatory failures, the division managers showed “gross negligence” and “total lack of fiscal regard” by embarking on a massive spending spree to provide themselves with luxury furniture and unneeded expensive vehicles rather than developing an effective regulatory system.

According to a Reuters story, “The agency experienced 19 straight months of net losses, including a $2.3 million loss in June 2011 because of ‘large capital purchases’ including furniture, computers and a software program that failed to materialize.”

With the MMED in shambles and the special legislative committee to draft new pot regulations clearly displeased and disillusioned by the audit, Department of Revenue Director Barbara Brohl took responsibility for the failures and excesses of the division.

Despite the failure of the enforcement division to develop an effective method of regulating medical marijuana, the committee scheduled Brohl for further discussion about the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division transitioning into the Marijuana Enforcement Division for the state.

Since that enforcement model has already failed once, this is not an encouraging decision.

But with little time to bring a bill forward, the committee seems prepared to recommend that the Legislature put even more marijuana regulation money into the hands of these irresponsible and incompetent bureaucrats. With a deadline bearing down upon them, almost any decision they make in the waning weeks of the session will probably be a mistake.

Perhaps instead of focusing on the failure of the enforcement community, the legislators should look at what people in the medical marijuana industry were doing while the bureaucrats failed even to figure out how to do their job. They were running their businesses, mostly obeying the law, filing the endless paperwork that would never be reviewed by the regulators, helping their customers and paying their taxes.

Expanding the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division into an even more vast bureaucracy is unlikely to be much more effective in enforcing marijuana regulations than its predecessor was. No concrete evidence has been presented that the regulators who never figured out how to regulate medical marijuana have experienced a Eureka! moment.

The strongest motivation for marijuana dealers to operate within the law is self-interest. Allowed to operate within reasonable restrictions, few growers or sellers will want to risk their business by illegal dealing.

Perhaps it is time for the Legislature to consider a lighter touch to “regulate marijuana like alcohol.” The state should put some trust in the individuals it licenses as marijuana dealers. Is it really that much harder to regulate a marijuana business producing and selling its own products than a micro-brewery doing essentially the same thing?

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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