DENVER (AP) – Colorado is cutting its medical marijuana enforcement staff because the state isn’t collecting enough licensing fees to pay for them.
The Department of Revenue said Tuesday that 17of 37 staffers at its Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division will be reassigned to other jobs within the department. The division licenses and regulates medical marijuana businesses such as dispensaries and marijuana growers.
Revenue spokesman Mark Couch says the MMED is cash-funded, which means that when fees don’t come in, the division has to whittle staff. The MMED was budgeted for $5.7 million this fiscal year. So far this fiscal year, it has collected $418,750 in fees.
State marijuana licensing fees range from $2,750 to $14,000, depending on the type and size of business. Individual workers in the business also must pay $250 for a state background check and other vetting to make sure they’re eligible to work with medical marijuana.
The licensing fees were set up last year. But so far, the Medial Marijuana Enforcement group has issued just 81 dispensary licenses out of 817 applications. The agency has issued just six licenses for makers of marijuana-infused products such as brownies, out of 322 applications received before August of 2010.
Couch acknowledged the backlog but said some licenses were rejected because applicants didn’t meet state criteria. Hundreds more have been completed but await local verification.
“We have a lot of work still to do,” Couch conceded.
Couch attributed the declining license applications to a state moratorium on medical marijuana licenses, along with slower-than-expected local licensing. Marijuana shops are supposed to have paid local licensing fees before they pay state licensing fees.
“There was an expectation that licensing fees would come in faster” than they have, Revenue spokesman Mark Couch said. The moratorium on new marijuana businesses ends this summer.
Couch said cash-funded regulators are routinely affected by licensing fees. For example, Couch said, another division within the department that regulates auto sales was similarly cut a few years back when car sales plummeted.
But the MMED cutbacks are frustrating to people in the pot business.
“How can any medical marijuana business be in clear and ambiguous compliance with state law when the state licensing authority goes belly up?” said Rico Calibri, of the Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education, in an email.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)