Thefailings of Colorado's medical-marijuana systemshow the danger of not spending enough money on regulations for recreational pot, a state attorney told lawmakers Tuesday morning.
Deputy Attorney General David Blake, who sat on a task force that proposed rules for recreational marijuana in Colorado, said lawmakers must create a consistent, multimillion-dollar funding stream to adequately police the forthcoming recreational marijuana system.
"If (the regulation of) this industry is not fully funded, it will be a huge problem for the state of Colorado," Blake said.
Blake's comments came at the same time lawmakers in a different meeting were learning the results of a scathing audit on the state's underfunded medical-marijuana regulatory system. The audit concluded that medical-marijuana regulations have failed in part because of a lack of money.
Without enough money for enforcement, regulations intended to keep recreational marijuana away from kids or leaking into the black market will similarly founder, Blake said.
"The lesson is that you have to have a sustainable, long-term funding mechanism," Blake said. "It is the key to having this industry legitimized."
Blake was speaking during one of the last meetings of the legislature's joint marijuana committee, which is taking the Amendment 64 task force's suggestions and working them into a bill. The committee must finish its work by the end of the week. It is scheduled to hold its final meeting Thursday morning, at which it will decide on the most contested issues before it: taxes, industry structure, marijuana potency, cannabis tourism and more.
The task force has suggested that lawmakers seek heavy taxes on recreational pot. In addition to a 15 percent excise tax and a standard 2.9 percent state sales tax, the task force urged legislators to ask voters to approve an extra sales tax on marijuana — perhaps as much as 25 percent.
Amendment 64, the measure Colorado voters approved legalizing marijuana and allowing it to be sold in special stores, says the the state can charge up to $5,000 in application fees to open a pot shop. But Blake, who sat on the task force, said fees alone are unlikely to be able to pay for the regulations, even if lawmaker also create extra licensing and renewal fees.
Jack Finlaw, an attorney for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said lawmakers also can't depend on the possible excise tax because the amendment earmarks the first $40 million collected annually for school construction.
"Even if the excise tax is approved, there will be no money going into the general fund for the foreseeable future," Finlaw said.
That has left officials looking for new money sources.
One proposal is for the state to use fee money meant for medical-marijuana regulation to pay for the first months of recreational marijuana policing. That, however, could prompt lawsuits, and some lawmakers on Tuesday were skeptical of the approach.
"I understand we're in a bad spot," Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said. "But are we going to spend a lot of money on lawsuits to scrape over a little bit of money?"
The state must start issuing licenses for recreational marijuana stores by Jan. 1, 2014. Lawmakers, though, only have until May 8 — the last day of the legislative session — to finalize rules for the industry.
The state division that enforces Colorado's regulation of the medical marijuana industry has neither adequately defined its role nor determined what resources it needs, a state audit released Tuesday found.
Auditors found that Colorado's often cited "seed-to-sale" oversight model of 1,440 medical marijuana businesses doesn't currently exist.
Highlights of the highly critical audit of the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, which is part of the Department of Revenue:
• A review by auditors of 35 new business applications found in 13 cases "evidence of potentially disqualifying Trimmer Wayne Damata wears gloves, gown and cap as he closely trims marijuana buds for sale at a medical marijuana indoor grow operation in Denver. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post) information" about the criminal backgrounds and finances. In 10 cases, MMED issued licenses. Auditors flagged five of the 13 files for concerns about past felony arrests, possible financial assistance coming from a "potentially unsuitable person" out of state, and involvement in drug or alcohol treatment classes.
• Processing applications dragged on too long, and the division tried to urge those with "problem applications" to withdraw their applications. Auditors called this practice concerning, in part because state statute requires the division to deny applications that fall short.
• A program to license employees at marijuana dispensaries, grow sites and infused-product businesses is broken, with licenses being approved without results of background checks. Although applicants must be of "good moral character," seven applications cited past arrests, including one case in which the person had been arrested for felony aggravated robbery and menacing with a deadly weapon.
• A contractor was paid $1.1 million to develop a seed-to-sale inventory tracking system but, the division was unable to come up with another $400,000 to put it in place. Auditors also noted that the division doesn't review a dozen different tracking forms it requires businesses to submit, including travel manifests showing when a business transports medical marijuana plants or products.
• Questionable spending practices were discovered, including large capital purchases for furniture, cell phones and a fleet of vehicles that included large sports utility vehicles.
The enforcement division has agreed to a series of fixes recommended by auditors to improve the monitoring, licensing and controls over expenses. But the division — at least for now — has indicated it wants to move forward with the now-funded seed-to-sale tracking system and keep licensing marijuana business employees.
Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association, said the audit underscores the importance of fully funding regulation of the industry.
"The regulatory structure is sound, but the state needs to fund it properly," he said. Although the state might be lacking oversight, he said, "the vast majority of business owners are staying in strict compliance with state law. They still could be audited at any time."
The Post in a story Sunday identified several holes in the division's efforts to oversee regulation of the industry.
The enforcement division has been beset by budget problems.
In 2010, state legislators placed a moratorium on new business applications so the division could catch up on processing other applicants who were already in business but not yet approved. The moratorium was extended in 2011. As a result, the division was forced to stretch operating expenses budgeted for one year over two.
The division closed three satellite offices and cut its staff from 37 to 15. The number of field enforcement officers fell from 14 to six.
The cuts left regulators without tools meant to enforce the state's stringent medical marijuana regulations, including the high-tech tracking system, and 24-7 online monitoring of video surveillance cameras at businesses and grow operations.
The division is in line to take on the additional responsibility of enforcing recreational pot rules after passage of Amendment 64.
The technology was supposed to efficiently track medical marijuana from seed to sale — the catch-phrase that came to define Colorado's efforts to regulate what had been an outlaw business.
Field investigators could walk into any dispensary or grow operation and with a digital reader instantly collect data from tags attached to everything from newly potted plants to pot-infused lollipops.
In July 2011, the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division signed a $636,000 contract with a Florida company to build the system using Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, technology.
About nine months later, the project was shelved because of a budget shortfall — just one unfulfilled promise in a regulatory system often held up as a national model and serving as the foundation for how the state will regulate recreational pot legalized by Amendment 64 last fall.
The challenges of starting an agency from scratch, a lack of stable funding, staff cutbacks and balancing public safety concerns with the desires of an industry looking for legitimacy all have complicated efforts to regulate Colorado's Green Rush.
"The expectations were too high," said Marco Vasquez, who retired this month as the division's enforcement chief. "We had a champagne wish list on a beer budget, and we were never going to get there."
Three years after legislation established a strict system for regulating a commodity that remains illegal under federal law, businesses are expected to follow the rules, but a thinned group of regulators lacks many of the tools to enforce them.
Technology allowing regulators to connect to the Internet and monitor businesses' surveillance cameras around-the-clock never materialized, independent testing of products allowed by state statute has yet to happen, and a team of auditors that was to sift data and identify potential problem businesses was disbanded.
At the same time, some medical marijuana businesses have been allowed to operate since 2010 while their license applications are pending. Vasquez and others say operators who would not pass background checks likely have exploited that, although a division spokeswoman says all applications have undergone some scrutiny.
Critics — especially law enforcement — call Colorado's regulation an honor system. But supporters, including medical marijuana entrepreneurs who support tight regulation, believe the consequences of breaking the rules keep the industry in line.
"We are still the best example of regulation," said Denver dispensary owner Jeremy Heidl, who also has a stake in marijuana-infused product company Organa Labs. "This is a very young and immature industry, and kudos to us for taking on something that hasn't been tackled anywhere in the world, really. It's a monumental task. If I were to give it a letter grade, it would be a solid 'A.'"
In a warehouse district in central Denver, employees wearing powder-blue gowns, hairnets and gloves lean over freshly harvested marijuana plants, carefully pruning the flowers with scissors.
A computer in the corner runs a software program, MJ Freeway, that captures 36 data points — date of harvest, strain, plant ID, batch ID, weights of the product at various points in the process.
Three high-definition cameras perched like black-eyed insects watch from above, the digital video preserved on a DVR on-site and backed up on the server of a security company.
This is the trimming room above Colorado Harvest Co., one of the last stops on a marijuana conveyer belt. Here, workers pluck flowers that will be sold in jars at affiliated dispensaries. The trim will be dried and processed into oil for Organa Labs products such as tablets and a pen-like vaporizer that resembles an electronic cigarette.
Not everything here is required by the state — the special garb is an added touch, and not all the data must be documented, said Ralph Morgan, who left a career in health care equipment sales to open a dispensary, Evergreen Apothecary, in 2009.
"MMED has come many times," said Morgan, 39, also a partner with Heidl in Organa Labs. "We beg them to come. If you are going to have us put up all these cameras, get down here."
The state put up many barriers to those wanting to make it in an industry like none other.
For years, there had been little reason to do anything. Dispensaries appeared en masse in 2009, after state health department officials dropped efforts to cap how many patients a caregiver may have and a deputy U.S. attorney general signaled the federal government was unlikely to crack down on medical pot.
In 2010, longtime Department of Revenue enforcement official Matt Cook set about to craft legislation and a rule book governing the industry. Cook borrowed from laws regulating horse racing, casinos, alcohol — even card-dealing.
"There were 1,100 businesses out there unregulated," Cook said. "There was no oversight, no regulation. No one really knew what to do."
The resulting playbook pleased neither law enforcement officers, who see no benefit to legalizing marijuana for any use, nor medical marijuana entrepreneurs, who thought the cost and difficulty of following the rules would run the industry into the ground.
Required were costly fees, criminal background checks to weed out convicted felons, proof of Colorado residency and years of financial statements. Business owners would need to send the state shipping manifests and blanket their operations with surveillance cameras.
The newly minted Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division set up shop in offices at a greyhound racing park in Commerce City.
Over one summer weekend in 2010, the office took in more than $8 million in application fees, almost all of it cash, said Vasquez, the division's former enforcement chief.
"From Day 1, we were drinking out of a firehose," said Vasquez, a former Denver Police deputy chief and Sheridan police chief.
Field investigators started off meeting with about 90 businesses that had failed to show they were growing 70 percent of the marijuana they sold — a mandate meant to better account for pot in the system.
The vetting of license applications was supposed to take a year but dragged on "because so many in the industry who had applied had issues with their background — back taxes, improper paperwork," said Paul Schmidt, a former division deputy director, also in enforcement. "Boy, wouldn't you think that is strange? Actually, no, not at all. This was something that was illegal last week and legal this week."
Even before the division's staff was reduced, "we would have needed more people than we had," Schmidt said.
In 2010, state legislators placed a moratorium on new business applications so the division could catch up on processing other applicants who were already in business but not yet approved. The moratorium was extended in 2011. As a result, the division was forced to stretch operating expenses budgeted for one year over two.
The division shuttered its three satellite offices and began layoffs last April that slashed its staff from 37 to 15. The number of field enforcement officers fell from 14 to six. Under statute, the division originally was supposed to have 80 employees.
The audit section — which was leading the radio-tracking system implementation— was eliminated. Vasquez said auditors were to pore over data, including patient lists businesses provided monthly, to identify potential problems in need of more attention.
"We have been behind from the beginning because we had a very steep timeline," said division spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait. "The budget shortfall and the staff cuts were a big blow across the board."
All the work to make the high-tech checks a reality — the radio tracking and monitoring of surveillance cameras — came to halt.
Vasquez said there "really isn't" a seed-to-sale monitoring system in Colorado. Medical marijuana businesses are still required to tag and track their products, and state officials can still inspect those businesses, but with far fewer bodies and no high-tech tools.
"I don't think anyone intended to mislead," Vasquez said. "The intentions were good. The devil's in the details."
Vasquez said the cuts meant fewer random compliance checks or undercover operations to prevent medical marijuana going to nonpatients. The division couldn't take advantage of training it received on sniffing out money-laundering and organized crime, either, he said.
"I envisioned more complex investigations and going after people in the criminal element of the business and locking them up," he said.
Vasquez said the gutted division still made an impact — including conducting inspections that caused some businesses to withdraw applications because they were so far out of compliance.
"The rap from law enforcement is MMED hasn't done anything with enforcement," he said. "Well, we are doing enforcement, but it doesn't mean we're filing criminal charges and putting handcuffs on people."
Since its inception in 2010, the division says 696 license applications have been approved, 144 have been denied, and 905 have been withdrawn. Another 634 applications are still pending.
Many businesses seek multiple licenses for dispensaries, marijuana-infused products businesses and commercial grow operations.
Nearly two-thirds of those denied applications were rejected because businesses couldn't clear the bar of obtaining local licenses in their respective cities or counties. Most of the rest could not certify they were growing 70 percent of the marijuana they sold.
The division has issued 49 fines totaling $123,000, mostly for issues related to the 70 percent requirement.
Fewer than a handful of cases involved more severe consequences.
In 2011, for instance, Mother Earth Medical Marijuana Center in Carbondale was shut down after an undercover bust by a regional drug task force. Authorities had been tipped the center was selling to people without medical cards, as well as selling cocaine.
The backlog in processing license applications — and fully vetting the applicants — remains an issue.
Kevin Merrill, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Denver field division, said his investigators are aware of many instances of operators with pending license applications who would not qualify because of criminal records, failure to meet residence requirements or because they have registered the business in another name while they are in control.
He declined to elaborate, citing ongoing investigations.
"I am not aware of any other business model where you grandfather in people without a license," he said. "A lot of them are just subverting the system."
Both Vasquez and Schmidt agree such scenarios are likely.
Postlethwait said initial investigations on all applications are "materially complete" and awaiting resolution of least one issue, such as local authority approval or changes to the original application.
She said while it is possible applications in the pile would not pass muster, "every single one of these applications has been looked at, and there has been a review of the owners involved."
Postlethwait said an exception may be if ownership has recently changed, which is common in the industry.
"We do have a lack of resources," Postlethwait said. "But we have people out there basically working 10 to 12 hour days every day, people going to do site visits every day. There is regulation taking place. I am comfortable enough saying that if there is something really egregious going on, we would know about it. The large majority of owners in these businesses are doing the best they can to be compliant."
The state auditor's office is scheduled Tuesday to release a performance audit of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.
Postlethwait said the division has changed "processes and procedures" and taken other steps to improve its financial stewardship. She said she could not elaborate because she signed a confidentiality agreement, which the state auditor's office required.
Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies in Steamboat Springs, said that even with fewer field investigators, the division's ability to sweep in at any time keeps centers on their toes.
"We as responsible operators want more boots on the street looking into more things," said Fisher, chairman of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association. "I don't think it's perfect. It does need to be better funded. Do I think things fall through the cracks? Sure. Do I think it's systemic? No."
Cook, the architect of Colorado's regulatory system, said it's notable the federal government has not intervened since the regulations came on the books.
"I don't want to say it's tacit approval, but they haven't done anything here, for whatever reason," said Cook, now a consultant to the medical marijuana industry. "I believe in the regulatory scheme. It's very valid, very helpful, and it absolutely will work."
By T.W. Farnam, Published: March 25
Denver — The pot industry in Colorado is undergoing a massive makeover as it prepares to begin selling marijuana for recreational use legally under state law. Businesses are ramping up production, and trade associations are cleaning up their image, anticipating what could be a billion-dollar industry.
But the entrepreneurs who are hoping to cash in on the “green rush” starting next year are struggling with the unique challenges of conducting a business that the federal government considers a crime.
The state’s pot producers and retailers are having trouble securing business financing because banks won’t give them loans — and most of the time, not even an account.
State lawmakers are about to shake up the marketplace in unpredictable ways with regulations covering everything from the shape of containers to the labeling required for pot-laced brownies and other “infused products.”
And business owners say they’re anxious about the intentions of the federal government, which could seize millions of dollars they have invested or even send them to prison.
At a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that he would soon announce a response to the initiatives in Colorado and Washington last year legalizing pot for recreational use. The federal government, which deems marijuana a controlled substance, could upend the plans of Colorado entrepreneurs at any moment.
Last year, the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” for adults to buy in small amounts, building on the state’s 13-year-old law allowing the sale of marijuana to medical patients. Under the new measure, marijuana stores, or dispensaries, must register with the state, but many of the other regulations governing pot sales are still being finalized.
Kristi Kelly, 35, began selling medical marijuana three years ago and plans to grow the business when recreational sales become legal in 2014. Her Good Meds company includes three stores and two industrial indoor gardens.
Wearing a blue blazer and knee-high leather boots on a recent tour of her operation, Kelly was more dressed up than most of her customers and employees. Some sat on couches in hooded sweatshirts and dreadlocks trimming dried marijuana plants. Jimi Hendrix played in the background.
She led the way through one of her “grow facilities,” a 65,000-square-foot garden where plants at different stages were segregated into different rooms by maturity.
“We have about 10 rooms that look exactly like this,” Kelly said over the hum of a humidifier. A chain of 1,000-watt fixtures showered bright light on dozens of plants so heavily laden with large flowers that they were supported by a net. A valve on the wall periodically spurted carbon dioxide.
A Washington, D.C. native, Kelly has a high-energy demeanor that seems more at home on the East Coast than in laid-back Denver. A former ad agency executive who once managed accounts for government agencies such as the U.S. Mint, she said she deals with the uncertainty of operating in a legal gray area by keeping a close watch on risks she can control, such as security and compliance with state rules.
By Michael Tarm
The Associated Press
They also said the same about Colorado’s law, passed by voters the same election day that Washington’s voters approved an initiative last November.
The statement came on the same day a United Nations-based drug agency urged the U.S. government to challenge those laws, saying they violate international drug treaties.
The onetime DEA heads issued joint statements saying the Obama administration has reacted too slowly and should immediately sue to force the states to rescind the legislation.
One of the former DEA administrators, Peter Bensinger, told The Associated Press the day before that the more time that goes by, the harder it’ll be to stop the two states. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Bensinger, who lives in the Chicago area, said the government must immediately sue the states or risk creating “a domino effect” in which other states follow suit.
“My fear is that the Justice Department will do what they are doing now: do nothing and say nothing,” said Bensinger. “If they don’t act now, these laws will be fully implemented in a matter of months.”
The U.N. agency, the International Narcotics Control Board made its appeal in an annual drug report, calling on federal officials to act to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a meeting of state attorneys general last week that he is still reviewing the laws but that his review is winding down. Asked Monday for a comment on the criticism from the former DEA administrators, Holder spokeswoman Allison Price would only say, “The Department of Justice is in the process of reviewing those initiatives.”
The department’s review has been under way since shortly after last fall’s elections. It could sue to block the states from issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, on the grounds that doing so conflicts with federal drug law. Alternatively, Holder could decide not to mount a court challenge.
The ex-DEA heads are issuing the statements through the Florida-based Save Our Society from Drugs, a national group lobbying against legalization. One of the group’s spokesmen is based in Chicago.
The former DEA administrators are Bensinger, John Bartels, Robert Bonner, Thomas Constantine, Asa Hutchinson, John Lawn, Donnie Marshall and Francis Mullen. They served for both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Holder is scheduled to appear Wednesday before a U.S. Senate judiciary committee hearing. The former DEA chiefs want senators to question Holder on the legalization issue.
Advocates of legalization have welcomed Colorado’s and Washington’s new laws, arguing that criminalizing drugs creates serious though unintended social problems. The ex-DEA heads say they disagree with that view.
After votes last fall, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana’s recreational use — putting federal authorities in a quandary over how, or whether, to respond.
Washington state officials responsible for creating a regulated marijuana system have said they are moving forward with a timetable of issuing producer licenses by August.
Bensinger — who served as DEA administrator under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — said the supremacy of federal law over state law when it comes to drug laws isn’t in doubt.
“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “It is outrageous that a lawsuit hasn’t been filed in federal court yet.”
Others, however, said tough drug laws can sometimes be part of the problem.
The director of the Open Society Foundations’ Global Drug Policy Program, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, blamed repressive drug laws for millions of arrests and called on the United Nations General Assembly to reconsider its approach when it holds a special session on drugs in 2016.
Last modified: March 05. 2013 9:37AM
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Obama administration still hasn't decided on how the federal government will respond to the new legal-marijuana laws passed by voters in Colorado and Washington state.
Holder appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was asked about the issue by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The attorney general reiterated what he has said recently -- that a policy decision will be announced "relatively soon." He also said he's had good conversations with elected leaders from Washington and Colorado.
In Colorado, voters approved Amendment 64. It allows adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also would allow people to grow as many as six marijuana plants in private, secure areas. Amendment 64 organizers said the new law will make authorities regulate marijuana like alcohol.
However, marijuana, or cannabis, remains classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are federal criminal acts. It's in the same category as heroin, LSD and "Ecstasy," all deemed to have high potential for abuse, ABC News reported.
The Justice Department could sue the states in an attempt to block the licensing schemes from taking effect.
In December, President Obama said recreational users of marijuana in Colorado and Washington should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs.
"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.
"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," he said, invoking the same approach taken toward users of medicinal marijuana in 18 states where it's legal.
A Colorado congresswoman has introduced federal legislation that allows states to pass their own laws on controlled substances.
"My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens," said Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Colorado).
DeGette said the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act would ensure that state laws regarding marijuana will not be preempted by the federal government.
“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado).
Read the Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act: http://www.degette.house.gov/images/pdf/degett_037_xml.pdf
By Anthony Martinelli in Legislation, News Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 11:20 am
Earlier this month legislation was filed in Washington State that's drawn the praise of cannabis reform advocates across the country. House Bill 1661 sponsored by a bipartisan assortment of 21 state legislators, would allow individuals in the state with a cannabis possession misdemeanor to have it cleared, or "vacated", from their record.
If passed, this measure would apply to thousands. Given that a marijuana possession charge can deter a person's ability to get housing, employment, student loans, etc., this measure would reopen countless doors that were closed to these individuals, simply because of the bogus charge of simply possessing cannabis.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon.
In practical terms, this measure would take the one ounce decriminalization brought forth by Initiative 502, and apply it retroactively. In speaking with me, the sponsor of the measure, State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, stated that; "Thanks to I-502, possession of an ounce of pot (28 grams) is no longer a crime in Washington, but there are still thousands of people in Washington who have a possession conviction on their records, which can be a big problem when applying for a job, housing, or higher education. I had the idea for this bill when many county prosecutors, including in King and Pierce counties, dropped all pending marijuana possession charges. I thought that was a great start, but wondered about all the people from decades and decades of prohibition who still had a conviction on their records, and wondered what it would take to give them a fresh start. I'm very optimistic that we will be able to move this legislation forward this year."
According to data released last year from the ACLU, nearly a quarter of a million people were arrested for simple cannabis possession in Washington State alone between 1986 and 2010.
Making a stand for justice, and indicating that not all politicians are desperately out-of-touch, Washington's House Committee on Public Safety voted last week, 6 to 5, to approve the measure out of its initial committee.Just a few days later, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government approved the measure, again by just one vote, 5 to 4.
The bill has now been placed in the state's Rules Committee, where it's expected to be scheduled for a full House vote. According to Rep. Fitzgibbon, chances are "really good" that it will pass the House. Even so, it's absolutely critical for constituents to look up and contact their district's legislators, urging them to support this common-sense measure.
If the bill passes out of the House, it will head to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces a steep challenge, although the fact that the measure has multiple Republican co-sponsors is likely a good sign.
Those in Washington who support this bill should make an effort to spread the word, and contact their legislators. Those outside of Washington should use this as an example on how to retroactively make up for some of prohibition's mistakes.
Anthony Martinelli is the founder of TheJointBlog.com. Look for more posts from him in the future here at Toke of the Town.
And the winner is…no one, just yet.
Washington State initially planned to announce the winning bids for new cannabis consultant positions today but has pushed back its timeline to next week at the earliest. The reason? Chalk it up to an avalanche of applications – 112 to be exact. Some of those were duplicates or did not meet minimum standards, so in the end the state has had to pore over 98 bids.
“Due to the number of vendor submittals received … the evaluation process is taking longer than originally anticipated in the tentative procurement schedule,” the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) – which is handling the process – responded to groups that inquired about the delay. “While the WSLCB is working diligently to complete the evaluation process as soon as possible, we anticipate that scoring should be completed next week.”
It’s a short delay in the grand scheme of things. But excitement over the positions are high, so days can feel like months for applicants.
The state announced in January that it is seeking cannabis consultants who will provide advice and guidance to officials as they develop regulations on the production and sale of marijuana for adult use, as stipulated in the voter-approve legalization measure Initiative 502. A key task for the consultants will also be to help the state develop realistic market estimates, such as number of potential customers and average cannabis consumption levels.
Brian Smith, a spokesman for the WSLCB, said the vetting process is extensive, similar to what the state uses to select contractors and other companies for big projects.
“There’s a misperception about what we’re doing,” Smith said. “I think it’s been construed as we’re going through resumes and cover letters. But what we put out was a Request for Proposal that asks people to tell us how or why they are qualified. It’s the same system we use if we’re constructing a building. We’re using a transparent scoring system so we can show how and why we came to the decisions we have.”
Smith said the deadline to attach a score to each bid is Monday night, and an official decision could come as early as – but not before – March 13.
The other erroneous perception is that the state is looking for an individual to essentially oversee all decisions about recreational cannabis.
“No single person will have all of these (responsibilities); it will likely be people with various expertise in different areas,” Smith said. “Some people have the perception that we’re hiring an employee to sit on a golden throne and provide all the answers about marijuana.”
The state could select several separate applicants with varying backgrounds and expertise or a groups of cannabis experts who applied as teams.
Chris Lindsey, a medical marijuana professional who submitted a joint bid, said the delay is understandable.
“Given the broad range of criteria the liquor control board included in its request, I would assume they have a lot of fairly technical proposals to review and compare,” Lindsey said. ” I do not envy them that project.”
By Stephen Dinan and David Sherfinski - The Washington TimesMarch 6, 2013, 10:31AM
The Obama Justice Department is still trying to figure out how to handle the legalization of marijuana possession in Colorado and Washington state, but one senator on Wednesday said that in an era of stretched budgets, the feds should back off.
“I would suggest there are more serious things than minor possession of marijuana,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Judiciary Committee chairman, told Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: A Guide to the 113th Congress
Minutes earlier, Mr. Holder had warned that the budget sequesters are forcing him to cut more than $1 billion from his department’s operations and said that could hurt national security.
Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said that’s all the more reason to not continue targeting marijuana users.
Mr. Holder is trying to figure out how the federal government, which still considers marijuana a major illegal drug, will deal with pot users in states where it’s been legalized. He said he expects to have a policy soon.
A March 4 letter from a number of former top federal drug enforcement officials to Mr. Leahy and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican member, urged lawmakers to press Mr. Holder not to weaken federal law on the matter and to continue enforcing the Controlled Substances Act.
“Regular use of marijuana compromises the ability to learn and to remember information by impairing the ability to focus, sustain, and shift attention,” reads the letter, signed by nine former administrators of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as well as many anti-drug groups. “Sound drug policy must be rooted in evidence-based science, not driven by special-interest groups who are looking to profit at the expense of our nation’s public health and safety."
Posted by Bob Young
At 7:13 a.m. Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont popped the question to federal Attorney General Eric Holder that so many in Colorado and Washington have been anxious about.
At a far-ranging Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Leahy asked Holder if he was prepared to announce the federal government’s response to new legal recreational marijuana laws in those two states.
Both states are moving ahead with implementing regulations, but could face lawsuits and prosecution from the federal government which considers all forms of marijuana a dangerous illegal drug.
Early risers in Colorado and Washington tuned into CSPAN did not get an answer.
Holder said he had “good conversations” with elected leaders in those states, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
“We expect our ability to announce a policy relatively soon,” Holder said.
In what Leahy then called a bit of editorializing, he suggested Holder’s Department of Justice should pursue “more serious things than minor possession of marijuana.”
From there, senators moved on to other issues: use of private jets by Justice officials and use of drones to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
Alison Holcomb, the author of Washington’s new pot law, was encouraged by Holder’s few words.
“On the one hand, the statement didn’t shed much light on DOJ’s likely response,” Holcomb said. “On the other, Holder made a point of commenting on his productive conversations with state leadership. That’s important. If DOJ intended to reject outright the citizens’ efforts to reform our failed marijuana laws, there would be nothing to discuss.”
Holcomb’s view is shared by other key figures in Washington state who think that Holder wants to see more details of what the state-regulated marijuana systems will look like in Colorado and Washington — and how they will safeguard against leakage of legal pot into the black market — before he announces a policy.