Holly Kinnel straightens out the display case at the new location for The Clinic, one of the larger marijuana retailers in Denver, at its location on 2020 S. Colorado Blvd. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

Auditor: Denver needs more pot-tax transparency

Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy should do more to improve its public presence and increase transparency about the use of recreational-pot tax revenue, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s auditor.

“Regardless of your opinion on marijuana, it’s hard to deny the significance of additional tax revenue in the city’s coffers,” Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien said in a statement.  “… Because legalized marijuana is brand new, and because commitments were made to voters when they approved additional sales taxes, it is vital that the public know exactly how those tax dollars are being spent.”

O’Brien’s 53-page report offers suggestions on how the 2-year-old office can boost public knowledge about pot tariffs and bolster communication with marijuana businesses and neighborhood organizations.

“Auditors identified a lack of transparency related to the City’s use of marijuana-related revenue,” the report says. “Most of this revenue is allocated for other City services through the City’s General Fund and is not budgeted for marijuana-related expenditures. As a result, visibility to the specific use of those marijuana-related revenue dollars not budgeted for marijuana-specific purposes is reduced”

The audit added: “This practice may make it difficult for voters to see how marijuana tax dollars are being spent, an important factor for many voters who supported the legalization of recreational marijuana.”

O’Brien, otherwise, praised the office’s strategic planning initiatives and collaborative efforts, saying it has been an important addition to the city and established strong working relationships between city agencies.

Dan Rowland, spokesman for the OMP, said the agency is pleased that the auditor found they are already engaging in best practices and that Denver is ahead of benchmark cities.

“Given that the city has built this regulatory structure and management model from the ground up with no roadmap, we are pleased that the audit recommendations are administrative in nature,” Rowland said. “Our office already has many strategies in place to engage our community and work with our industry and we are amenable to adding a few more to ensure Denver’s continued position as a global leader in the implementation of legal, commercial marijuana.”

The auditor’s office says the Officer of Marijuana Policy has agreed to implement the report’s recommendations by adding more industry participants to existing check-in meetings and increasing the number of marijuana businesses who receive OMP-generated bulletins.

The auditor also recommended the OMP keep its website updated and host a citizens academy in 2017 for community representatives. OMP also recently hired an additional employee to assist with community engagement, according to the auditor’s office.

“I’m pleased to say that OMP accepted these recommendations in the spirit in which they were intended,” O’Brien’s statement said. “OMP is already engaged in industry and neighborhood outreach.  But we felt its efforts could be improved, and the agency agreed.”

The marijuana policy office was created in 2014 through revenue from a 3.5 percent voter-approved sales tax on pot as part of efforts to help the city navigate the launch of recreational weed.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com