In Colorado, marijuana regulators are switching sides

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Several Colorado officials responsible for crafting regulations for the historic new marijuana industry have left to join that very industry, the Denver Post reported.

Defectors include Matt Cook, who retired from the Department of Revenue in 2011 and who was in charge of drafting regulations for medical marijuana and Laura Harris, who recently retired as the director of the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Cook now consults with marijuana dispensaries and local governments, according to the Post. Harris joined a law firm that represents marijuana businesses.

Another attorney, former Marijuana Enforcement Division policy analyst Jordan Wellington, left to join a law firm that was instrumental in helping pass Amendment 64, the Post reported.

“It’s all about opportunity,” Cook told the Post, adding that it makes sense for businesses that operate under complex new regulations hire those most familiar with them.

“Certainly this is a new and emerging industry, not only here but on an international basis,” he said. “So, obviously, those who have knowledge have the opportunity to share that.”

While the state prevents former lawmakers from joining lobbying firms for two years after leaving office, the only restriction on state employees is that they cannot leave the public sector to work for companies that have contracts with the state for six months if they were involved in those contracts.

But Ron Kammerzell, the head of marijuana enforcement at the Department of Revenue, told the Post he’s worried that the new industry could suffer if the public perceives there to be a conflict of interest with state employees jumping from one side of the regulatory fence to the other.

“It’s more a perception issue than it is in reality an actual problem,” he told the Post.

Harris — whose new employer is located on the same floor of the same building as the Marijuana Enforcement Division (and whose managing partner owns the building) — told the paper that, at least in her case, the worry is unfounded.

“I don’t view that as a conflict of interest at all,” she said. “I think all of us came out of state government with [their marijuana-related responsibilities] finished. I certainly haven’t tried to exercise any undue influence on the agency from my position here.”

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