Budtenders Kate Evans, far left, and Brandon Maniez, right, help customers at Native Roots Dispensary at 1550 Champa St. in Denver, on Dec. 9, 2015. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Former state marijuana enforcement chief to head Colorado cannabis chamber

A former top marijuana regulator in Colorado now will fight for the future of the state’s cannabis businesses.

Laura Harris of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce
Laura Harris (provided by Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce)

The Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce this week announced that Laura Harris, the former state marijuana enforcement chief, will serve as its new executive director.

“We need to demonstrate that we are responsible vendors in this highly regulated market. That’s the minimum,” Harris said in an interview with The Cannabist.

The five-dozen C4 members already hit that mark and try to lead by example, she said, noting actions such as adopting standards to not sell animal- or human-shaped marijuana edibles. That announcement was made in advance of Colorado legislators tackling kid-friendly shapes in marijuana products.

“C4 members took the initiative there,” she said. “We’ll have more of a focus on public safety issues and what we can do as an organization to achieve setting the bar a little higher for responsible vending.”

The nonprofit C4 represents cannabis businesses focused on advancing industry business policies at the state and local levels of government.

Harris is filling the shoes of Tyler Henson, who recently stepped down as chamber executive director to take a legislative affairs role with the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.

Harris steps in with three decades of experience in the public sector — notably serving as the division-head for the state’s liquor, tobacco and cannabis enforcement departments — as well as a couple of years of private-sector consulting experience.

Prior to heading up the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (previously the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division), Harris led the liquor and tobacco enforcement division. She helped to craft the rules for recreational cannabis ahead of the first legal sales in January 2014.

Harris retired in August 2013, and is among other state regulators to jump across the aisle to work in the cannabis industry.

By the end of 2013, Harris was working as an administrator and a consultant for Dill Dill Carr Stonbraker & Hutchings, a Denver law firm that represents marijuana businesses. In that role, she initially provided consulting services for businesses in the alcohol beverage sector and then later extended that to the marijuana industry.

Other consulting efforts included a year with Denver Relief Consulting, working with businesses and regulators in states outside of Colorado, expert witness activities, independent consulting, and a compliance role with New England Treatment Access, a medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts.

But Harris wanted something more.

“I was looking for something to be a little more involved with where cannabis policy was moving,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do in that (consulting) space.”

C4 provides that opportunity, she said, adding that her initial goals include having the organization play a critical role in areas such as under-21 access, out-of-state diversion and the black and gray markets; increasing C4’s member base; and staying closely involved with marijuana-related measures at the state legislative level.

“Our key goals align with addressing what concerns have been raised by those in the Trump administration,” she said. “We have to continue to … assure the public that, with appropriate regulation and responsible vending, the cannabis environment should be allowed to continue.”