Colorado’s top marijuana business regulator retiring

medical marijuana hbtv hemp beach tv cannabisThe director of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division is retiring, at a time when the embattled division is taking on the task of regulating the state’s new recreational marijuana industry.

Laura Harris will retire effective Aug. 1, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, which oversees the division, confirmed Monday.

“After 30 years of state service, Laura Harris has decided to retire in August and enjoy life,” Daria Serna, the spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post.

Harris referred a request for comment to Serna.

Harris was named director of what was then called the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division in late 2011 and put in charge of regulating hundreds of medical-marijuana dispensaries and other businesses. The division was renamed the Marijuana Enforcement Division this year to reflect its expanded role overseeing all marijuana businesses, which voters approved in November.
Harris’ departure comes at a time of upheaval and evolution in the division.

In March, a scathing audit found the division rife with wasteful spending and incomplete enforcement. Revenue Department director Barbara Brohl has defended her department by saying the problems occurred years ago and that Harris, who previously oversaw tobacco and liquor enforcement for the state, was brought in to clean up the division.

“We have control over this division at this point and will continue to have control,” Brohl told a legislative committee earlier this year.

Serna said Harris played a key role in tightening medical-marijuana regulations and in preparing the division to handle oversight of the forthcoming recreational marijuana industry.

“The Department appreciates her dedication and commitment to the state of Colorado,” Serna wrote in the e-mail. “In addition, we thank her for leading us to this point with both medical marijuana and retail marijuana.”

But an e-mail that Harris sent last week to leaders of a marijuana business group hints at continued tension within the division. In the e-mail, which The Post obtained, Harris wrote that she planned to stay at the division until mid-2014 — after recreational marijuana stores had opened and the state enforcement of them was up and running.

“[B]ut I found that the personal toll of this job was too much,” Harris wrote. “Moreover, I found that I was becoming ineffective with my colleagues at those times when it was necessary to address areas of disagreement.”

On July 1, the division issued temporary rules governing recreational marijuana stores. Those rules, though, are to be re-written and finalized by November. A number of key parts of the rules remain unwritten.

Serna said Harris decided now was the right time to retire.

“This will allow the Division to bring someone in at the beginning of the next phase of the process,” Serna wrote in her e-mail.

The Department of Revenue will begin looking for Harris’ replacement soon, Serna said. Until then, Department of Revenue enforcement official Ron Kammerzell and Marijuana Enforcement Division investigations director Lewis Koski will handle the division’s day-to-day responsibilities, Serna said.

In a statement, the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association for marijuana businesses in Colorado, thanked Harris for her work.

“We appreciate her leadership and her commitment to create a strong regulatory system,” Mike Elliott, the group’s executive director, wrote in a statement.

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