Colorado Department of Revenue director Barbara Brohl told lawmakers Thursday that a lack of money is at the heart of the state’s troubles regulating medical-marijuana businesses.
“We’ve got 15 people trying to do the job of 55,” Brohl told members of a special legislative committee that’s looking at proposed regulations for the emerging recreational marijuana industry.
That new industry also will be supervised by the Department of Revenue, and lawmakers had long assumed the state’s medical-marijuana cops would simply expand their jobs to handle recreational marijuana, as well.
But last month a brutal audit of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division — which found wasteful spending, unmet promises and shoddy background checks on business owners — threw that into doubt.
Lawmakers on the marijuana committee said Brohl needed to explain what changes the department has made and how it would be better able to handle the even-larger task of regulating recreational marijuana.
Brohl told the committee she has made management changes in the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division and implemented better accounting measures.
“Work is already well underway,” she said. “We did not wait for the state audit to act.”
But Brohl spent much of the meeting telling lawmakers that the enforcement efforts need more money. The Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division had been expected to have 55 employees and a budget of $5.7 million. Instead, Brohl said, the division is operating on $2.5 million and with 15 employees.
Only eight of those employees actually do license investigations and compliance checks.
“It’s somewhat of a triage approach to all of it,” said Ron Kammerzell, the head of the Revenue Department’s enforcement divisions.
A change in when the department collects licensing fees has helped the division’s cash flow and kept it from insolvency, Brohl said. But she still urged lawmakers to use money from the general fund — the state’s main bank account — to pay for the new regulation of recreational marijuana.
“There needs to be some predictability of funding until it becomes stable,” she said.
She also urged lawmakers to propose a special marijuana sales tax for the regulations. But Brohl couldn’t put a figure on how much the tax should be or on how much the overall enforcement of recreational marijuana will cost.
Thursday’s meeting was the third-to-last scheduled for the legislature’s marijuana committee. It has two more set for Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
At those meetings, the committee is expected to vote on a number of key policy ideas for the recreational marijuana industry, such as the industry structure and the proposed tax amount. When the committee finishes its work, its plans will be turned into a bill, which the entire legislature will then vote on.
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