Marijuana: Denver Relief execs on partnering with ex-state pot regulator Laura Harris

Photos and video below.
Denver Relief Consulting's announcement of a new partnership with Laura Harris, former head of Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, instantly stirred controversy, with some members of the local cannabis community crying foul and at least one good-government activist citing potential ethical concerns. But DRC co-founders Ean Seeb and Kayvan Khalatbari tout Harris's move to the industry side of the fence, arguing that her expertise can help other states that are considering or implementing progressive marijuana policies.

"We're always looking to expand our team," Seeb says, "and we were thinking out of the box about who good team members would be. We've always respected and admired Laura, so we had a conversation with her. She was open to the opportunity, and now she's part of our team."

Ean Seeb with Governor John Hickenlooper after the latter's Goldfish and Cheetos line.
Last summer, Harris was in a very different place, but not for much longer: In July, she announced that she was leaving her MMED job as of August 1, 2013. Shortly thereafter, we noted mixed feelings about her tenure.

"No question that Harris has been the target of criticism, particularly due to a damning audit of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division," we wrote at the time. "Released in March, the document blasts the MMED for ineffective oversight, as well as poor management of funds exemplified by a graphic showing nineteen consecutive months of net losses during fiscal years 2011 and 2012, much of it on Harris's watch; she took over in late 2011."

Here's that graphic:
However, marijuana attorney Warren Edson gave high marks to Harris when it came to communicating with MMJ stakeholders. He called a January meeting to review proposed changes to medical marijuana regulation as surprisingly pleasant, with Harris proving open to discussion about proposals such as "removing live-feed cameras from dispensaries and simplifying the manifest process so the industry wasn't having to send quite as many documents and the state wasn't having to deal with receiving so many documents," he pointed out.

Likewise, Edson praised Harris for considering what he sees as some common-sense alterations in rules. Indeed, his main gripe about her involved the timing of her departure, mere months before recreational sales were to launch.

It didn't take long for Harris to find a place in the private sector. In December, as reported by the Denver Business Journal, she joined the law firm of Dill, Dill, Carr, Stonbraker & Hutchings, PC, as a regulatory consultant. And this week, Harris added the DRC partnership to her schedule. She wasn't available to speak with Westword, but a statement from the release quotes her as saying, "It's exciting to be able to bring my expertise on cannabis regulation to Denver Relief Consulting, a firm that has demonstrated a commitment to establishing a responsible model for the entire nation to follow. As more states follow Colorado's regulatory lead, both in medical and retail cannabis, it is imperative that individual governments have a framework in which to work so that there are no unintended consequences."

Matt Cook as he appeared in a "60 Minutes" segment on the Colorado marijuana industry.
The announcement prompted a CBS4 story noting that Harris is the second state marijuana regulator to move into the pot industry, following Matt Cook, who worked closely with legislators in developing Colorado's marijuana rules after the laws authorizing medical sales and shops went into effect. He jumped into the consultancy business after leaving his state job and subsequently appeared on a 60 Minutes broadcast about the Colorado weed scene.

There's nothing illegal about such moves, but Elena Nunez, state executive director of Common Cause, told the station that "there are a couple of problems potentially. One, they have specialized knowledge of the agency and its processes, and they also have special relationships that can influence their ability to get approval for contracts contributions or other things." Likewise, Representative Dan Pabon cautioned that "we need to make sure those folks who are privy to confidential information about the industry or client matters maintain that confidentiality and privilege."

Far less circumspect is prominent marijuana advocate Kathleen Chippi, who blasted Harris and Cook in an e-mail to Westword. She writes: "The CO pot regulators seem to be building the empire that they plan on benefiting from and no one seems to care how corrupt it is. 'Foul play' would be called in any other instance. I wonder if the feds are okay with an 'F' audit and the head 'regulators' joining the industry they were supposed to regulate."

Harsh words -- but Seeb and Khalatbari believe many of the complaints are unfounded. Khalatbari stresses that Harris will not be handling DRC business in Colorado. Instead, she'll be consulting with clients in other states where DRC operates.

Continue for more of our interview with Denver Relief Consulting's co-founders about their new partnership with former Colorado pot regulator Laura Harris, including more photos and a video.

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DonkeyHotay topcommenter

         *** Legal Weed in California is "Dead as a Doornail" for 2014 ***

Efforts to follow Colorado's lead and "legalize" recreational marijuana are "dead as a doornail" for California in 2014, after the national Drug Policy Alliance withdrew a proposed initiative that would regulate the drug statewide, says longtime statewide political consultant Steve Maviglio.

After that announcement, longtime cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal, who was trying to counter the alliance with his own initiative, also exited the race, the Weekly has learned. That leaves just two initiatives trying to make it on statewide ballots: the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act, or MCLR, and the much more grassroots California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, or CCHI. 

Even San Jose dispensary operator Dave Hodges, who's behind the MCLR, the better-funded of the two remaining initiatives, concedes that things don't look good for pot legalization in 2014. "It's a little bit of a long shot," he admits, "but we're trying to make it happen."

Conventional wisdom was that the the Drug Policy Alliance put a horse in California's 2014 race to hedge its bets in case any of the other initiatives had a chance. The alliance appeared to have wanted to ward off more loosely written initiatives.

Most of the efforts sought to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

... idiots repeating Colorado's Epic Failure!

RobertChase topcommenter

The incestuous relationship between those regulating cannabis and those selling it is an instance of what is commonly known (among the literate and journalists, when America still had some) as the "revolving door", and objective observers have long since concluded that it is a very bad thing.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

    *** High Cigarette Taxes Ensure $5 BILLION Black Market ***

Arizona ranks second in the U.S. for highest levels of cigarette smuggling, with more than 50 percent of cigarettes coming from out of state, according to a study.

The report from the Tax Foundation and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy on black market cigarette sales estimates that more than 51 percent of cigarettes in Arizona were purchased elsewhere originally.

Arizona ranks behind New York, where the report says trafficked cigarettes account for nearly 57 percent of the total number. Rounding out the top five states are New Mexico, Washington, and Wisconsin, although New York and Arizona are the only states where smuggled cigarettes exceed 50 percent.

The report attributes the growing black market cigarette industry to differences in each state's cigarette taxes.

"Public policies often have unintended consequences that outweigh their benefits," the report says. "One consequence of high state cigarette tax rates has been increased smuggling as criminals procure discounted packs from low-tax states to sell in high-tax states."

Arizona's $2 cigarette tax is the highest in the Southwest, and the 12th-highest in the nation. Many cigarettes are smuggled in from Mexico or surrounding states where the tax is much cheaper than Arizona's. Other border states like California, New Mexico, and Texas fall in the top eight for black market cigarette sales.

Cigarette smuggling can take many different forms. It can range from buying a pack of cigarettes in one state and transferring it to another state, to trafficking from organized crime groups. Smuggling also includes "counterfeit state tax stamps, counterfeit versions of legitimate brands, hijacked trucks, or officials turning a blind eye," the report says.

Some states have taken an active response to cigarette trafficking, like banning common carrier delivery of cigarettes, increasing law enforcement on interstates, and cracking on down on tribal reservations that sell tax-free cigarettes.

Even though authorities are taking steps to reduce cigarette smuggling, the problem still persists. States with high cigarette taxes lost about $5 billion in revenue in 2010 because of cigarette smuggling, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Conflict of Interest Profiteering SCUMBAGS !!

Like FEDERAL employees / politicians, they should be BANNED from private consulting / lobbying / profiteering from their TAXPAYER FUNDED employment with the government!!


Federal personnel may be subject to certain conflict of interest restrictions on private employment activities even after they leave U.S. government service. These restrictions, applicable when one enters private employment after having left government service, are often referred to as revolving door laws. For the most part, other than the narrow restrictions specific to procurement officials, these laws restrict only certain “representational” types of employment activities such as lobbying or advocacy directed to, and which attempts to influence, current federal officials.

Under federal conflict of interest law, at 18 U.S.C. § 207, federal employees in the executive branch of government are restricted in performing certain post-employment “representational” activities for private parties, including (1) a lifetime ban on “switching sides,” that is, representing a private party on the same “particular matter” involving identified parties on which the former executive branch employee had worked personally and substantially for the government; (2) a two-year ban on “switching sides” on a somewhat broader range of matters which were under the employee’s official responsibility; (3) a one-year restriction on assisting others on certain trade or treaty negotiations; (4) a one-year “cooling off” period for certain “senior” officials barring representational communications to and attempts to influence persons in their former departments or agencies; (5) a new two-year “cooling off” period for “very senior” officials barring representational communications to and attempts to influence certain other high-ranking officials in the entire executive branch of government; and (6) a one-year ban on certain former high-level officials performing certain representational or advisory activities for foreign governments or foreign political parties. This law also applies the one-year “cooling off” periods, and the restrictions on representations on behalf of official foreign entities and assistance in trade negotiations, in the legislative branch to Members of the House and to senior legislative staff, and applies the two-year “cooling off” period to former U.S. Senators lobbying the Congress.

Under the provisions of an executive order issued by President Obama on January 21, 2009, full-time, non-career presidential and vice-presidential appointees in the executive branch, including non-career appointees in the Senior Executive Service, and excepted service confidential, policy-making appointees, will be subject to more extensive post-government-employment “lobbying” restrictions. All such appointees will be barred from “lobbying” any executive branch official “covered” by the Lobbying Disclosure Act (2 U.S.C. § 1602(3)), or any non-career SES appointee, for the remainder of the current Administration. Additionally, all such appointees who are “senior” officials subject to the current one-year “cooling off” period on lobbying and advocacy communications to their former agency, must now abide by such “cooling off” period for two years.

Further limitations are placed upon post-government private employment activities of “procurement personnel” in federal agencies. These restrictions go beyond the prohibitions on merely representational, lobbying, or advocacy activities on behalf of private entities before the government after leaving government service, and extend also to any compensated employment for or on behalf of certain private contractors for a period of time after a former procurement official had been responsible for procurement action on certain large contracts for the government.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

"As more states follow Colorado's regulatory lead -- an epic FAILURE -- , both in medical and retail cannabis, it is imperative that individual governments have a framework in which to work so that there are no unintended consequences."


Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

"there are a couple of problems potentially. One, they have specialized knowledge of the agency and its processes, and they also have special relationships that can influence their ability to get approval for contracts contributions or other things."

Welcome to the revolving door of politics. Normally, you don't hear much about it. Funny how when the revolving door represents the thawing of a 75-year cold war it becomes news.


Why would you expect anything else from the Cartel. It looks like the city of Aurora is going to continue to line pockets of the cartel. They are allowing 24 retails shops to open in Aurora. The selection the licensing of these shops will give preferential application review of prospective owners that have existing experience in the "industry". (as if weighting and sealing weed is a special process ) What this tells me is that the existing cartel has bought the city council of Aurora. Nice job cartel, at least when the feds come to town you will be easier to round up. I guess I will just continue TAX FREE. Fuck the cartel, A64 and the pussy council of Aurora. Long live the moonshine of a new century.


Who would want advice/consulting from the former head of the MMED? She sucked at her job, that's why she mysteriously retired/got fired.

And Matt Cook? The guy that set up a ridiculous set of rules and then retired/got fired before anyone noticed they were impractical.

Everyone who has followed them claims they needed to fix their mess, but now their mistakes are somehow considered valuable experience?

The weed industry seems short on reputable figure heads. The only ones they can buy have a pretty shitty record.


Well maybe not an epic fail, but not yet complete and total legalization.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter


"Granting the DOR regulatory authority over retail sales of cannabis is not bad at all" 

-- Robert "political idiot" Chase


@DonkeyHotay  Those "black market" cigarettes were still made by major corporations and either stolen or bribed out the back door. You'd have a hard time proving that there's actual black market of cigarette producers or tobacco growers in this country (because there isn't).

Which is exactly why this fails as a comparison to actual black market cannabis production and sales.

Try harder, you're almost there.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

... it's time to CLOSE the State LOOPHOLE on these corrupt profiteering parasites !!


All or nothing.  Screw regulations.  We don't need no stupid regulations.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@JimTom  ... the same Greedy Big $$ Dispensary Cartels -- led by scumbags like MMIG and DRC -- are actively lobbying the legislature to Restrict and Eliminate the Constitutional Right granted to INDIVIDUAL Patients / Growers / Caregivers by A20 ... 

... those lowlife shitsuckers are demanding the legislature require Private Growers / Caregivers to suffer the same background checks, licensing, overhead and regulatory restrictions that those profiteering asswipes begged, bribed and bargained for when they bumrushed into Colorado and hijacked the industry from the INDIVIDUALS who had worked decades building it from scratch.

They want to deny Individual Patients / Caregiver Growers the ability to economically produce their own sustainable supply, forcing everyone to purchase their over-regulated, over-taxed, government controlled over-priced warehouse schwag ... at the barrel of CRIMINAL LEGISLATION !!

Fuck those scumbags, and fuck what they stand for.

Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

@Monkey  Matt Cook is the guy who, when approached by yours truly about the impracticality of calling a cutting with a couple lousy roots sticking out of it a "plant," and beseeching him for some common sense in the matter of cuttings versus vegetating plants, was told "I have precedent that those are plants!"


@Monkey It's not about knowledge it is about influence and connection. Her connection allow payoffs from the cartel to be better spent and positioned. 



Why do you consider production to be the only definition of a  black market? Oxycontin is a huge black market, produced by one company. 

Regulations don't reduce the black market, they create new black markets, with the regulated often participating in both markets.

Over-regulating and over-taxing weed increases black market availability, and keeps the value high enough for black markets to thrive, much like what we see with the tobacco black market.

Black market weed will always include illegal production and sales, but now, because of regulations, it's black market has expanded to include crimes associated with regulated markets like tobacco, alcohol and oil. 

I think the Donkeys point was, while the production and sale of weed in the black market will continue, despite regulations, the taxes, fees and limitations on the regulated market will most likely result in a black market similar to cigarettes, which is in the high Billions. 


@DonkeyHotay  … and yet like Robert Chase, you'll do absolutely nothing to actually close said loophole. It's much easier to bitch about it and hope someone else does something, eh?


I have nothing intelligent to say, so you get standard troll talk.


if it has roots, it's a plant.  Sometimes I can not even realize the obvious or the established legal standards.

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