Medical marijuana advocacy group implodes on the cusp of victory
This week should have been a time to celebrate for the main players in Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation.
Photo by Michael Roberts Brett Barney and Josh Stanley say they haven't done anything wrong.
In recent months, the group has been an energetic and effective advocate for measures to codify the medical marijuana business in the state. Instead of rebelling against any and every attempt to limit the industry's activities, or backing away when legislators pushed proposals they saw as wrongheaded, CMMR representatives actively engaged in the process -- and while House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109 don't read like a dispensary owner's wish list, their approval by lawmakers, and Governor Bill Ritter's promise to sign them, is enormously significant for the medical marijuana movement in Colorado and beyond.
But as HB 1284 was passing through the legislature on Tuesday, CMMR's principals were at each other's throats, pointing fingers about potential wrongdoing in ways that have torn the organization in half. Some victory party.
On one side of the clash are CMMR executive director Matt Brown and Wanda James, co-owner of the Apothecary of Colorado and 8 Rivers restaurant, as well as CMMR's president -- although plenty of people interviewed by Westword didn't know she held this title, and by her own admission, she hasn't been intimately involved in the organization beyond the period of its founding.
Lined up opposite them is Josh Stanley, owner of the Peace In Medicine Center dispensary, who says he thought he was CMMR president and presents plenty of documentation to prove he was frequently referred to as such. Stanley is supported by Stacey Vilos-Fauth, part owner of another dispensary, B*Goods Apothecary, who was pretty sure she was CMMR's treasurer -- until she found out this wasn't the case. Also backing Stanley are attorney Brett Barney, CMMR public-relations consultant Michael Hoog (read a statement by him about the subject by clicking here) and numerous donors to the group who signed affidavits echoing Stanley's claims even though they wish to remain anonymous.
This reticence to have their names associated with the CMMR situation can likely be traced to the involvement of the Denver District Attorney's Office. Late last month, Brown presented a packet of information to DA personnel, spurred by his discovery that thousands of dollars in donations to CMMR never made it into the group's main bank account. Instead, he learned, the money had been placed in a newly created CMMR account to which he had no access.
Why? Brown says Stanley told him he was planning to start a new organization, and that he would be taking with him two CMMR lobbyists, Kristen Thomson and Kara Miller, who had been paid using the CMMR donations placed into that second account. (CMMR also has two other lobbyists, Fofi Mendez and Michael Beasley.)
Photo by Natalie Gonzalez Matt Brown during a recent meeting at Alpine Herbal Wellness.
But Stanley says he never told Brown he was going to split off to create a new group. (He concedes that he may do so in the future, but only because of the current CMMR schism.) According to him, the new bank account was put in place because lobbyists Thomson and Miller hadn't received promised compensation and were threatening to walk at an extremely crucial time for HB 1284. Moreover, he says, Vilos-Fauth established the second account with his support because of questions about CMMR's finances as a whole. By his estimate, the group is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and he has no idea where much of the money given to the organization went.
Barney's got a guess about part of it. He says Brown took a two-month advance on his $6,000-per-month salary -- something Barney calls a violation of the organization's bylaws -- "to buy a new BMW." Brown counters that he bought "a $6,000 car" using money he'd earned in a separate consulting job, and says he hasn't been paid by CMMR since February "because other bills needed to be taken care of first."
Brown, Stanley and everyone else interviewed for this story swear they're not accusing anyone of anything. Rather, they're simply asking questions and seeking answers.
So, too, is the Denver DA's office -- but it's unclear at this point whether any laws were broken. Spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough confirms that a complaint has been received, but she says DA's office staffers are in "the information-gathering stage." Once that phase is completed, they'll determine whether or not an investigation is warranted.
If no decision about potential criminal charges has been made, however, there's plenty of evidence indicating communication problems and severe dysfunction among the powers behind CMMR. They may still be fighting for the same cause -- both Brown and Stanley trumpet the passage of HB 1284 as a tremendous achievement -- but they're also fighting against each other.