Colorado’s efforts to ensure our legal cannabis industry remains above suspicion of black market shenanigans have taken a major hit. In response, our state’s leaders need to act quickly and soundly to make sure our seed-to-sale regulatory system is reliable and beyond reproach.
Without that certainty, Colorado’s cannabis experiment could find itself in peril, jeopardizing the work of the many law-abiding ganjapreneurs out there who follow the rules.
The recent indictment of a former Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division officer ought to come as an enormous wake-up call.
As reported by The Cannabist’s Alicia Wallace, a grand jury has concluded that the enforcement officer, Renee Rayton, joined a company masquerading as a legal cannabis operator that lured her to work as a “compliance consultant” for $8,000 a month. We add the air quotes because the work Rayton was being asked to do hardly had to do with compliance, and it strains credulity to believe that someone in Rayton’s position was fooled.
Instead, she is charged with using her extensive field experience as a regulator to aid illegal marijuana grows. From there, Harmony & Green, a shell company, bought legal pot cultivation licenses and tricked investors into helping finance the scheme. But Harmony & Green was never in the legal marijuana business. Instead, the grand jury found, it shipped Colorado cannabis worth millions of dollars to several states illegally.
Rayton’s indictment says that she was introduced to a Harmony official through an enforcement division employee. When she quit her post in early November, she declined to tell her peers where she was going. But within weeks she was working for Harmony. Her doing so meant a breach of policies that require former regulators from working in the industries they oversaw for six months.
Worse, during her employment at Harmony, when questioned about monitoring tags being switched among plants illegally and other trickery, Rayton told a source she knew someone at the Department of Revenue who would help the company “get legal.”
Investigators assert that, given Rayton’s vast regulatory field experience, which included warehouse monitoring and inspection, she must have been aware of the duplicitous practices that were lining her pockets.
Like their product, the drug ring’s activities haven’t escaped attention beyond Colorado’s borders. Even before news of Rayton’s indictment, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentioned the Harmony operation in a recent letter to Congress, arguing against a measure that would prevent the Justice Department from prosecuting violations of the Controlled Substance Act in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Sessions, of course, would rather cannabis remain illegal.
We’ve argued many times that, for the most part, Colorado’s experiment with legal cannabis sales has been successful. But there have been problems, and this one fundamentally calls into question the state’s ability to keep pot out of the illegal marketplace.
Colorado’s Enforcement Division is right to have asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation. Meanwhile, the Department of Revenue should launch a review of its enforcement division’s practices and ensure, through education and otherwise, that its regulators can be trusted.