Colorado's under-construction plan for regulating recreational marijuana nearly came unglued Thursday, when lawmakers questioned whether the agency that would enforce the rules is up to the task.
The plan called for the state's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — which regulates medical-marijuana businesses — to transition to the Marijuana Enforcement Division and be in charge of all pot enterprises in the state. But a scathing audit released this week cast doubt on the division's fitness for handling the massive job. And it threw into chaos what was scheduled to be the final meeting of a legislative committee drafting a bill on recreational marijuana regulations.
"It's tough for me to vote to give them one ounce more of regulatory responsibility," Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said at the meeting Thursday.
"If they couldn't handle the little piece they have now," he said later, "there's no way we can trust them to handle more."
DelGrosso's comments at the start of the meeting — which were soon echoed by others on the committee — sent the Jenga stack of proposed rules teetering.
For the past four months, everybody — from lawmakers to state officials to members of a special task force — who has suggested ideas for recreational pot regulations has assumed they would look somewhat like medical-marijuana regulations, with a Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division-type agency riding herd.
The audit, released during a two-day meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, found the division rife with wasteful spending, shoddy enforcement and unfulfilled expectations. Systems that were supposed to track marijuana plants from seed to sale were incomplete. Measures that were supposed to prevent criminals from getting involved in the industry had failed.
After DelGrosso's comments Thursday, committee chair Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, abruptly called a recess, and committee members moved to an adjacent room to vent their frustrations.
"They need to tell us how they will do things differently," Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, said of marijuana regulators.
"If you're in the real world, all these flipping people are gone," DelGrosso said.
"Heads should roll," said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.
Pabon, who said he was reluctant to rehash the audit, hastily arranged for the director of the state Department of Revenue, which oversees the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, to address the committee.
"We have control"
Director Barbara Brohl said many of the problems found in the audit occurred before she took her position and assured committee members that the issues had been fixed. The division has a new leader, she said, and is now "pretty fiscally frugal."
"We have control over this division at this point and will continue to have control," she said.
That seemed to steady the teetering column, although the committee set a meeting for April 4 for Brohl to explain better. The committee then postponed several votes on the recreational marijuana regulatory structure until it can resolve its questions.
But, if the committee decides to abandon the plan to give medical-marijuana regulators authority over recreational pot, there are few other options, Pabon pointed out. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana, says the Department of Revenue will enforce the rules.
Creating a new division for recreational marijuana "doesn't seem likely," Pabon said after the meeting. "But I think we need to hear from the department on how they're going to move forward and solve these issues."
The committee did take several votes on recreational marijuana rules. It approved one proposal that only Colorado residents be allowed to own pot shops and adopted several others that set up educational programs and safety standards for marijuana.
Pabon also announced that the committee, which had planned to finish its work by the end of March, will now have until April 8. If it finalizes the ideas for a bill by then, the full state legislature will have exactly one month to pass the bill before the end of the session.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/john_ingold