COLORADO: At first glance, Colorado’s medical marijuana industry seems like an unmitigated success story. Hundreds of dispensaries and grow houses have sprouted up since the state began taxing weed sales three years ago, bringing in millions of dollars in extra revenue. Colorado’s fiscal windfall has led many to herald its program as a model for other states to follow, but in the capital of Denver, things are in a state of disarray.
According to an audit released last week, regulators in Colorado’s largest city are still struggling to keep up with its booming medical marijuana business. Despite an influx of weed tax revenue, local agencies remain understaffed, underfunded, and woefully disorganized. Records on licensed vendors are incomplete or inconsistent, and oversight is spotty, at best. As the report notes, Denver officials don’t even know how many weed dispensaries are currently in operation, or where they’re located.
The report comes at a critical time for Colorado lawmakers, who are still deliberating over how to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Both Colorado and Washington voted to fully legalize the drug in November 2012, and have since become something of a drug policy laboratory — a test case for whether marijuana legalization can actually work on a large scale.
City regulators blame their disorganization on recent budget cuts, and say they’ve already begun implementing substantive changes. But with Colorado less than six months away from opening its doors to retail marijuana sales — and with the national spotlight getting brighter by the day — many are now wondering whether the state will be prepared, and where all their tax dollars went.
“I would say there’s definitely a feeling of, ‘Yo, we’re turning in so much money all the time so how does the state not have the money to regulate it?’” says “SB,” manager of a Denver-based medical marijuana shop. SB declined to be identified by his real name on the grounds that he is unauthorized to speak on behalf of his company.