State marijuana staff hear SLV issues

Representatives from state departments such as the Marijuana Enforcement Division visited with San Luis Valley entities during an outreach meeting in Alamosa./Courtesy photo

ALAMOSA — Local entities are not alone in dealing with marijuana regulations, state staff reminded them during meetings in Alamosa last week.

Staff members from various state departments and agencies met with local government, law enforcement and licensee representatives to share information on marijuana regulation changes and receive feedback on local issues.

Dominique Mendiola, director of marijuana coordination in the governor’s office, said it can be difficult for stakeholders outside of Denver to attend meetings there, so the state department staff from departments such as the Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Agriculture, Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division and Department of Public Safety wanted to engage people in face-to-face meetings in outlying areas like the San Luis Valley.

“That indicates the importance and value this administration places on that kind of high level outreach,” said Jim Burack, division director for the Colorado Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division, who oversees 100 staff across the state out of Denver and three field offices.

This was the third such outreach meeting in the state, with the first two being in Colorado Springs and Durango.

“We want to make sure we are actively engaged with stakeholders,” Burack said.

He added, “We recognize there’s activity here in the San Luis Valley and we want to make sure we are providing support, that we are responsive to the issues and some of the challenges folks are seeing here.”

During their meetings last week in the San Luis Valley they met with law enforcement from across the Valley, county and municipal government representatives including land use staff and municipal clerks as well as licensees.

Burack explained that the way licensing is set up, it is a dual structure involving both the local licensing authorities as well as the state, so both need to have a close relationship.

State staff provided updates on laws and regulations and listened to local issues and how the state can better assist local agencies and licensees.

“We will continue to remain engaged,” Burack promised. “We heard people say they appreciated we were here. More importantly we appreciate they came and met with us. We will be back.”

Burack said the meetings provided a valuable perspective to the state staff and provided valuable information to Valley entities.

Shannon Gray, marijuana communications specialist for the Colorado Department of Revenue, said one of the challenges licensees shared with the state staff was the distance they had to travel to the field office to renew their licenses.

“We were able to highlight online options for renewal, and we are going to put more services online,” she said.

Burack added that the state set up field offices to be sensitive to the fact that distances pose challenges for people outside the Denver metro area. “We understand for businesses time is money. We are making a real effort to put the services we can online.”

Mendiola said the state has made educational resources available for the industry as well as the public and is trying to make those resources responsive to issues and questions that arise.

Burack added that there is a dedicated team covering this region and is well acquainted with this area, spending a lot of time here.

From local law enforcement the state staff heard concerns about having the resources they needed to address the illicit marijuana market. Burack said staff shared information about grants available through the Department of Local Affairs and Department of Public Safety and about support available through the interdiction team whose priority is to assist law enforcement in rural areas dealing with illicit activity.

Grants are available for law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices with priority for rural areas, according to Gray.

Burack said although the Marijuana Enforcement Division is regulatory, it is also law enforcement, and staff members in the division are sworn police officers. Over the years the staff have assisted Valley law enforcement in addressing the marijuana black market, he said. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has also been involved in assisting local law enforcement in combatting illegal grows, he added.

Illegal activity is occurring across the state in urban and rural areas and commonly consists of illegal cultivation in homes, Burack explained.

The Department of Agriculture staff also provided information to law enforcement on how to verify if a hemp operation was properly registered, as that is a burgeoning industry in the state and the San Luis Valley specifically.

Mendiola said regulations surrounding marijuana are changing routinely. Every legislative session brings more marijuana legislation, she said, which requires close coordination between state departments. Meetings with those locally affected by those changes are valuable for the state, licensees, local governments and everyone else affected by the new regulations, she explained.

Burack added that the rules around marijuana are evolving and dynamic, and the state is working with those in the industry “to make sure we have responsible regulations around the industry.”

He added, “There’s always that challenge of trying to keep up.”

Gray said the local meeting highlighted the fact that state regulations are not written in a vacuum, and local input from those most affected by the legislation is important not only to the state agencies but also the legislators.

“We have a lot of conversations about developing legislation,” Burack said. “We are open to that, and we are excited about the new session.”

Mendiola anticipated legislation this next session around delivery, tasting rooms and consumption clubs, which were similar concepts introduced in legislation during the previous session.

Burack said activity around marijuana is occurring around the country, and Colorado is the regulatory leader nationally, with other states looking to Colorado for advice and leadership.

“I think we have been very thoughtful and deliberate how we have been approaching marijuana regulation,” he said. “We appreciate that responsibility we have not just nationally but we are an international resource.”

Burack said the state staff appreciates local governments and licensees around the state accepting their collective responsibility “to ensure that the reputation about Colorado is we are doing it the right way.”