Pot regulator scrutinized over letter
Warning about dispensaries' closure self-serving, inaccurate, sheriff says
The director of the state’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division is under fire for writing a letter advising residents that banning commercial sales of the drug will inhibit law enforcement officials’ ability to monitor and regulate medical marijuana activity.
Dan Hartman, whose agency oversees the operation of the commercial medical marijuana industry, wrote the letter in response to inquiries from communities — including Palisade — considering whether to prohibit medical marijuana centers.
Citing anonymous sources, a blog on the website for Westword, an alternative weekly newspaper in Denver, reported late Thursday that Hartman would leave his post at the end of the day Friday. Contacted late Friday afternoon by The Daily Sentinel, Department of Revenue spokesman Mark Couch neither confirmed nor denied reports that Hartman would no longer be in charge of the division.
“The Department has new executive leadership, both at the executive director and senior director of enforcement levels,” a prepared statement released by Couch reads. “With new leadership, there is generally a desire to review the organizational structure and determine if additional movement would be appropriate in order to create cross-training opportunities and bench strength. The senior director of enforcement is reviewing his organization and will announce some decisions within the next week.”
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies raised concerns about the letter with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office earlier this month, attorney general spokesman Mike Saccone said.
The two-page letter, which appears to be addressed to voters, goes into detail about the duties of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division and advises that state officials can’t regulate the activities of patients who have a right to grow their own marijuana or obtain it from a caregiver.
“Unfortunately, communities that vote to ban commercial medical marijuana operations also ban the MMED from regulating and monitoring any and all medical marijuana activity within their community,” the letter reads. “Only those businesses operating within areas that allow for commercial medical marijuana will be regulated and monitored by the MMED.”
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said he initially thought the letter was fraudulent because it wasn’t signed or on state letterhead. He said the Sheriff’s Department contacted the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, which confirmed Hartman wrote the letter.
Hilkey called the letter self-serving and said it’s inappropriate for the leader of a state agency funded by medical marijuana center fees to express a position that Hilkey and others believe backs the industry.
“If their leadership appears to be sitting in the recliner with (the medical marijuana industry) and is cozy with the marijuana industry, I’m going to be very reluctant to share information about what might be criminal behavior on these kinds of things,” he said. “It certainly seems inappropriate for a state office to try to influence this in a way that supports the continued existence of that division.”
The sheriff contended the letter also implies that local law-enforcement officers can’t keep track of medical marijuana activity, something with which he disagrees.
Attorney General John Suthers voiced his concerns to the Department of Revenue about the ethics of the letter and that Executive Director Barbara Brohl indicated the situation would be handled internally.
Suthers was “primarily focused on the fact that the letter was somewhat misleading,” Saccone said. “It could have left the impression that if communities did away with medical marijuana centers, nobody had any oversight over medical marijuana, where in fact that’s not the case. The local police and sheriff could still police people who were exceeding or going beyond the law on caregiver-patient matters.”
Palisade residents will vote on two questions Tuesday: whether to ban medical marijuana centers in town and whether to impose a $5 fee on each medical marijuana transaction. The town is home to the only dispensary still operating in Mesa County.