Guest Commentary: Lax Marijuana Oversight is Unacceptable

July 18, 2013
McNULTY:  We cannot accept the failures of state regulators to ensure pot users and growers are following the law

McNULTY: We cannot accept the failure of state regulators to ensure pot users and growers are following the law

Proponents looking to mainstream the legalization of pot took another hit this week when the Colorado state Legislature’s chief oversight panel – the Legislative Audit Committee – issued another scathing report outlining the dangerously lax regulation of the medical marijuana industry in Colorado.

The Committee’s indictment of lax oversight is not even related to the recently passed initiative that legalized pot in our state, but rather, reviewed a medical marijuana industry that Colorado voters legalized in 2000.  The Audit Committee report shows a remarkable lack of interest and oversight by state regulators, but, more seriously, showed that “medical” pot shops were acting outside of the law under the cover of selling a “medical” product.

As has been readily pointed out more than once, the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has given our state a black eye.  The report released by the Legislative Audit Committee calls the very serious question of whether Colorado can even execute the appropriate regulation of a limited number of “medical” users, let alone effective execution to protect employers and children from the disastrous effects of wholly legalized pot.

The report red-flagged several examples of abuse where state regulators did not step in to stop illegal or questionable acts or were slow to recommend bad actors for disciplinary review.  In one case, a doctor recommended “medical” pot for 8,300 patients, far exceeding the national average doctor/patient ratio of 2,300 patients to each doctor.

Also highlighted by the Legislative Audit Committee was the expansion of what are likely illegal grow operations by those operating under the cover of “medical” marijuana.

I’m certain that some proponents of legalized pot are flat out scared by the results of this audit, and they should be.  The findings call into question every promise and commitment proponents of legalizing pot have made related to the “safe” use of their illegal drug.  And this isn’t the first example.

The July report comes on the heels of a March 2013 Legislative Audit Committee review that slammed the Colorado Department of Revenue for having “inadequate controls” and issuing licenses to sell “medical” pot to questionable applicants.

Perhaps equally important, the Revenue report also showed that the DoR wasn’t even able to process the requests for licenses required of each person working in a “medical” pot shop, and that the agency dropped the ball on implementing public safety measures due to “financial difficulties.”

The March and July reports taken together paint a picture of a state bureaucracy clearly incapable of regulating “medical” pot and incapable of protecting our children and Colorado employers from this illegal drug.

Here in DougCo, our county commissioners have taken the steps that they can to protect our neighborhoods and our children by prohibiting the retail sale of pot in our county, but that doesn’t protect us from state regulators who are abjectly failing their job to make sure pot users and grow operations are following the rules.

But even as we expect our state regulators to do their job, we need to do our job as parents and citizens as well.  If you think that drugs are not rampant in our middle schools and high schools, take a minute to talk with a member of our Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.  The stories are chilling.  Sophisticated drug running originating outside of Douglas County and operating in and around our schools.

The studies pointing to the negative effects of pot on the development and growth of adolescent brains are conclusive.  Yet, state policies and regulators have opened the floodgate of drugs through the doors of our schools and into the lungs of our children.  We need to be honest and up-front with our kids when we talk about the very real dangers drugs pose.

On the state level, we need to fix this broken system.  I do not support the legalization of pot, though I understand that, at least for a time, we’re going to have to deal with it.  But in dealing with it, we cannot accept the failure of state regulators to make sure that pot users and growers are following the law.  Nor should we accept the constant inertia of inept government bureaucracies.  Both the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment and the Department of Revenue have pledged to fix the gaping holes left by lax oversight.  For the sake of our children, let’s hope that they get it done.

Rep. Frank McNulty was Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives for the 68th General Assembly.  He represents Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

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