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Talking shop with members of the governor's marijuana task force

Riding shotgun on Route 64

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There's nothing sexy about the bread baked in a government kitchen. If you're Gov. John Hickenlooper and you want something done, you just sign an executive order making it so — which is exactly how the Task Force on the Implementation of Amendment 64 came about.

"All stakeholders share an interest in creating efficient and effective regulations that provide for the responsible development of the new marijuana laws," said the four-page order signed on Dec. 10. "As such, there is a need to create a task force through which we can coordinate and create a regulatory structure that promotes the health and safety of the people of Colorado."

It was a hell of a historic mission, and it didn't wrap up until task force members sent their report to a legislative committee in March. Among other items, the group recommended the "adult-use marijuana industry be required to have common ownership from seed to sale," meaning retail-store owners would also grow most of their own product, as with medical marijuana; that purchases by out-of-state residents be allowed, but that state residency be mandatory for store owners; and that the only products sold in the stores be of a cannabis nature, i.e., no feeding the munchies with regular popcorn. (You can read the full report at tinyurl.com/taskforce64.)

Via phone at different times over the past couple of weeks, we've spoken with a number of task force members, including Christian Sederberg, with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol; Colorado Counties, Inc.'s Eric Bergman; the Colorado Municipal League's Kevin Bommer; Ron Kammerzell, the acting executive-director of the state Department of Revenue's enforcement division; University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin; Meg Sanders of Gaia Plant-Based Medicine; and Craig Small, the secretary of Colorado's chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Here's how they remember their service.

Indy: After your time on the task force, do you feel Amendment 64 is the right thing for Colorado?

Sederberg: Absolutely. The voters overwhelmingly supported fundamental change in the way we deal with marijuana. Limiting criminal penalties, [and] the potential for communities who choose to participate to have regulated stores and responsible business owners and to collect taxes, remains a good idea.

Kamin: I voted for the measure. It really came down to a decision of whether the benefits of legalization outweighed the costs of prohibition, and I feel the benefits do outweigh those costs.

Bommer: The right thing for Colorado is determined by the voters; can't argue with the popular vote. I guess my gut reaction to that is that the task force wasn't about right and wrong, it's how to implement and respect the will of the voters.

Bergman: The scope of the task force was, "It's here, we need to do it responsibly. What's the best way to implement it in a way that's going to provide community safety, keep our kids away from it, provide maximum local flexibility?" So I wouldn't put in a value judgment; the voters decided that.

Indy: Do you think the task force should have done anything differently?

Kammerzell: The amount of work was amazing, considering the time we had. We could have easily used two or three times that to really work through some of the issues.

Sanders: From my side, I found it interesting there was only one representative from the industry. [Sanders herself was that representative.] Maybe it worked out fine in the end. I had my critics and I understand that ...

Small: I think the task force did its job admirably. ... I think for the most part, most of the members of the task force don't feel strongly one way or the other, but when in doubt voted conservatively, which I can't blame them for.

Bergman: I was very proud of the work we did. We spent well over 100 hours [on the task force]. It was better than I was expecting. A lot of the work that came out of it was impressive given the time frame — that, and we were in uncharted waters with the recommendations. You don't know what you don't know.

Indy: What advice would you give to states in a similar position?

Small: Do not base legislation off of perceived fears. A lot of what was discussed was as if marijuana was gonna kill children and adults; a lot was based off of, What is the federal government gonna do? I think what all states need to do, including Colorado, is look at where marijuana is in relation to other drugs that adults consume.

Sanders: I think making sure that you have a good product you're offering, that's grown as it should be — and making sure you have ample supply, and have put in place ways for businesses to supply enough medicine or product to the end user — I think that's critical. ... Every ounce of medicine we put on the shelf is sold, but at the end of the day we're still not meeting demand.

Kammerzell: We've been dealing with Washington; we have periodic conference calls with them, trying to share some of the lessons we've learned. My advice would be to take this kind of approach, with a task force or some kind of study group, to help formulate the policy part of it, and include the stakeholders up front.

Bommer: First of all, I think enshrining a regulatory concept within the constitution is really not advisable. Everything in Colorado gets referred to the ballot, and until we have initiative reform here, we'll just add more complexity to a longer and longer constitution.

Indy: What advice would you give Colorado legislators as they work through this?

Sederberg: It's important to look at the text of the recommendations and recognize the rationale behind them, and I think we will move this process forward quickly.

Bommer: Continue to respect local control: Understand that these businesses and facilities are local first. ... Number two, the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division's audit shows ideas and policies we were all largely in support of, and thought would work, sometimes don't work if they're not executed carefully.

Sanders: The body of work we produced is something that needs to be considered very seriously. The thing that's most upsetting to me is that we're now seeing out-of-state big money hiring lobbyists at the last minute to sidestep the public and kill key parts of the recommendations behind [closed] doors.

Small: Use common sense. I think with the [THC driving-under-the-influence] bill that's going through, as a task force we recommended it, but I personally, as Colorado's NORML representative, voted against it. I don't think the DUID bill is based off science.

Indy: What's the biggest thing you took away from your time on the task force?

Sederberg: A lot of the people that were the polar opposite of me on the larger issue of marijuana reform actually had some good ideas, and were a credible part of the process. ... I worked side-by-side with several of the people on the 'no' campaign, and we came up with good compromises.

Bergman: We have a long way to go still. The report was a huge exhale — no pun intended — but we've just started. Probably two-thirds of our members are gonna ban retail sales. They can't ban personal use and cultivation, but at least two-thirds of our counties will likely ban retail.

Kamin: For me, one thing was how important [it is] that the Department of Revenue, and the division of marijuana enforcement, be fully funded. We can write up a great set of regulations, but if they don't have the manpower, if it takes months and months to do background checks, if they can't look at the videotape we require all licensees to keep, then it sort of becomes a paper tiger.

Kammerzell: This really touches every facet of the community — a lot of interests were involved. Everyone's got wide-ranging views on it, and we had to take all those things into account. What I learned from it is that there's widely differing opinions on it, and from many different angles, which makes it a challenge to formulate public policy. But it was good to have that dialogue.

newsroom@csindy.com

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