Link to full interview here
In order to be successful, cannabis companies must traverse a patchwork of state and local regulations while also remaining competitive in a steadily growing marketplace. They frequently have to make complex business decisions, often aimed at achieving compliance while minimizing disruption to their optimal operating procedures. One of the many factors to consider when making these high-stakes decisions is the perspective of the regulators.
Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Director Jim Burack recently offered some useful insights in a recent interview with Westword. Although he played his cards close to his vest, withholding specifics in response to some interesting questions, he offers a valuable glimpse into how cannabis regulators view their jobs, stakeholders, and the industry.
This is New for Regulators Too
“In 2012, one initial reaction I had was knowing it would be a challenging transition for multiple stakeholders in the criminal justice system.”
“Today’s framework in Colorado is more complicated, given the legalization of both medical and retail marijuana and the criminal and administrative laws addressing both the regulated and illicit marijuana markets. The once-clear distinctions are now more complicated.”
Most cannabis regulators come from two backgrounds: law enforcement and public health. These groups have not traditionally been aligned with marijuana policy reform efforts or the cannabis industry, but their buy-in is critical for the legalization to succeed and the industry to flourish.
Burack’s comments highlight the shift in how law enforcement engages on cannabis-related matters. Specifically, he mentions the challenges stakeholders are facing with the changing social landscape and the transition from a prohibition-based model to one in which marijuana is legal for adults and/or medical patients. For most of their careers, these folks worked to make marijuana as unavailable and undesirable as possible, so it is quite a jump for them to now be facilitating a system of cannabis production and sales.
It is critical for cannabis industry members to understand these regulators’ perspectives and challenges so that they can build relationships that will allow them to resolve compliance issues amicably rather than confrontationally.
Pace of Change
“For example, some topics that we’re paying close attention to include: hemp, vaping and other products derived from concentrates, and impaired driving, just to name a few. While change is undoubtedly a constant for us, our ongoing commitment is to be protective of public health and safety, always.”
This message is critically valuable for cannabis businesses that are committed to complying with laws and regulations. They should understand that, like the industry, these regulators are still developing best practices. And just like licensees, regulators struggle with the pace of change in compliance expectations.
By understanding that regulators are working through the same issues that cannabis businesses encounter, owners and managers can find common ground, build relationships, and collectively develop best practices for maintaining compliance. Some of the most successful cannabis businesses in the country don’t shy away from regulators and, instead, invite them into their facilities to help them work through complicated regulatory issues.
The Compliance Evolution
“… [M]y observation is that the industry has become generally more compliant over time. While we have certainly encountered and addressed instances of serious illegal conduct in the regulated space, we have also witnessed the industry attracting skilled and experienced business owners and operators, perhaps due to the dynamism, opportunity for innovation and potential for growth in the space.”
This is great news! The lead cannabis regulator in the nation’s most experienced regulated cannabis market strongly believes our industry is largely made up of skilled operators and is moving in the right direction. This doesn’t mean it is time to rest on our laurels; rather, it is a sign that the bar is being raised for cannabis business around the country.
As the industry continues to grow, evolve, and become more compliant over time, instances of non-compliance will become even greater outliers, resulting in greater enforcement. It is incumbent upon cannabis businesses to understand that regulators’ compliance expectations will also grow and evolve over time. As the pace of change settles and they reach the end of their learning curve, regulators will expect businesses to do the same and become more compliant, and they will enforce regulations in accordance with those expectations.