23 October 2016
Here’s the press release:
O’Brien Asks for Greater Transparency in Marijuana
Oct 20, 2016
Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien today released the findings of an audit of the two-year-old Denver Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP). While he praised the strategic planning and collaborative efforts of the OMP, Auditor O’Brien recommended the office do more to track the use of recreational marijuana tax revenue and improve its public outreach. “If Denver wants to set the standard for regulation and licensing, why not set the standard for accountability and transparency?” asked O’Brien.
“Regardless of your opinion on marijuana, it’s hard to deny the significance of additional tax revenue in the city’s coffers,” said O’Brien. “We made suggestions on how to report that tax revenue for greater transparency. 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.”
Another of the audit recommendations was to improve communication with marijuana businesses and neighborhood organizations. OMP agreed to implement these recommendations by adding more industry participants to existing “check-in” meetings, increasing the number of marijuana businesses who receive OMP-generated bulletins, keeping the OMP website updated, and hosting a “Citizens’ Academy” in 2017 for community representatives. OMP also recently hired an additional employee to assist with community engagement.
“I’m pleased to say that OMP accepted these recommendations in the spirit in which they were intended,” continued O’Brien. “OMP is already engaged in industry and neighborhood outreach. But we felt its efforts could be improved, and the agency agreed.”
Auditor O’Brien’s other recommendations involved improving OMP’s tracking of several internal activities such as the implementation of its strategies and formally documenting outcomes from its various internal and external meetings. “For the most part, OMP agreed with these recommendations,” said Audit Supervisor Emily Owens. “The one exception was formally documenting outcomes from its small, frequent meetings, which OMP felt was not an efficient use of its limited resources.”
When Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, no U.S. state or city had a model for how to handle the sale of a previously illegal drug. Denver, as the state’s most populous city with the greatest concentration of medical marijuana dispensaries, was one of the first local jurisdictions to create a regulatory framework for the sale of recreational marijuana. Denver voters approved a 3.5 percent sales tax to fund, in part, expenses related to the licensing and regulation of recreational marijuana, as well as educational and health programs to mitigate negative consequences of marijuana legalization.
Marijuana tax money funded the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy, created in 2014. OMP adopted a collaborative approach of working with other agencies to accomplish goals related to marijuana management. Its 13 partner agencies include Excise and Licenses, the Fire Department, the Mayor’s Office of Children’s Affairs, and the Department of Finance.