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Why Green Labs?

With marijuana spreading across the country, one of the primary public safety issues raised is marijuana impaired driving. Colorado is ground zero for legalization and there have been various efforts, including increased funding for ARIDE training and a demand for more DREs, that are meant to address the potential and real increase in marijuana impaired driving. But simply put they aren't enough and those curriculums don't quite understand the issues that legal marijuana and impaired driving bring.

I came to the conclusion that green labs were the only solution about three years ago. And I wasn't the only one; a small circle of Colorado DRE's and public safety officials were having the same conversation. The difficulty was how to pull it off. The impediments were many, but the foremost problem was that despite state legalization it, marijuana remained (and still remains) illegal at the federal level. At the time, I was still Colorado's first Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor (TSRP), where I trained Colorado law enforcement and prosecutors on all things DUI. Since 2009 when medical marijuana blew up in Colorado, I was sitting in courtside seats watching the whole thing unfold. But the simple fact was that my job was made possible through federal money channeled through a state agency and offered through a grant to my employer, the Colorado District Attorney's Council. Like myself there were other public employees, like Glenn Davis at the Colorado Department of Transportation who long supported and advocated for the idea, but the state's lawyers said not just no, but hell no.

But I did it anyway. In November of 2014, I ended my fourteen-year career as a government prosecutor and started Understanding Legal Marijuana, LLC. In five years I had learned an exceptional amount about marijuana and now I was ready to share it with others past the borders of Colorado. When I opened shop, one of the first things I did was entered a contract with Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to co-develop and put on a four-hour course for Colorado law enforcement: Marijuana 101: An Introduction to Legal Marijuana for Law Enforcement. Then I followed through with what I could not do as a government attorney, but could do as a private actor - start the GREEN LAB training.

In September of 2015 I launched Marijuana DUI Investigations - DRE Track, and later that December followed up with An Introduction to Marijuana DUI Investigations (now Marijuana DUI Investigations - Basic Track). The logistics of it are complicated and it takes a four-person crew behind the scenes to pull of each and every class. But it is an essential training because in Colorado we have learned that the public's changing perception of marijuana is affecting marijuana DUI including the decision to drive while high, and whether a jury will be persuaded whether a person is too stoned to drive. It's much more than the Green Lab, but clearly that is the aspect of the class that garners the most attention.

Perhaps for some in law enforcement the notion of having a Green Lab training is just as shocking as the thought of legal marijuana. Some even see it as capitulation, but it is a societal change and requires adaptation. Every DRE knows the story of the development of the program - it was the need that drove the development. It is essential training because even the most highly trained DREs and TSRPs who live and breathe impaired driving will find that the world has changed and that the traditional methods for detection, investigation and prosecution aren't cutting it. Adapt to progress. Ignore and hope it will go away at your peril.

There are those who have championed this project from its inception. Glenn Davis and Carol Gould at the Colorado Department of Transportation supported it out of the chute and are now reimbursing Colorado agencies for any DRE in the state to attend. Colorado Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) recently announced that they will reimburse every Colorado law enforcement agency to send up to three officers. Drager has lent the class one of its Drug Test 500 instruments for use during the green lab section.

Bill Watada, recently retired NHTSA Region 8 Administrator, went to bat and received approval from NHTSA Headquarters to permit Region 8 highway safety offices to utilize OTS monies for sending officers to these classes. Further, out-of-state officers, some on their own dime, have made it out for the experience. Since September, there have already been officers from Arizona, California, Florida, Vermont, Maryland, Iowa, Wyoming, Nebraska, North & South Dakota, and Utah who have attended.

Marijuana sales in Colorado just fell shy of a billion dollars last year. It's not going away, not even close. Instead it is just going to get bigger and bigger and spread, all with public support. Understanding the laws, the products, the terminology and getting a glimpse at the business side are features of all of these trainings and are essential parts to understanding the mission. Lastly, seeing and interacting with green lab volunteers provides key insights for both sides of this public safety debate. Setting aside long-held stereotypes will open the door to a better understanding of impairment; less stigma and more insight. So how do I get my green lab volunteers to come help law enforcement get better at detecting marijuana DUIs? It is a conversation that I have with every volunteer. The assertion that such a class will improve officers' abilities to assess impairment, or lack thereof and to have confidence to make a solid arrest decision is important to me, but what is of value to them is that officers will also have the confidence to let someone go if they are not truly impaired.

Green lab training? Essential training.

The Black Market that lives in the Field of Green

Today I made my foray into new territory, the Denver Cannabis Cup, High Times magazine's three-day celebration of all things marijuana, concluding on 4/20, cannabis’ annual holiday. Even though it was the official celebratory day I kind of expect the third day to be subdued — I was wrong. Cup-goers were festooned in their leafy-green finest, and when I arrived just minutes after the gates opened at 12:15, there was a steady stream of revelers heading in. One guy, decked out in a tweed jacket and fedora remarked “this feels like Christmas morning.”

I joined the throng making its way through the security and ticket lines inside the cavernous Merchandise Mart, the grittier convention hall servicing the Denver metro area. But just as I got inside, the flock headed outside to the back parking lot and a huge tent city of vendors. The aroma of pot permeated the air.

A few things struck me: one of the areas where the marijuana industry has been most successful politically is recasting the image of the “cannabis” consumer — even the use of “cannabis” as opposed to the endless other synonyms is deliberate. All those cannabis professionals who are now free to step out of the closet and into the green air were not to be seen; this was a pure stoner affair. These days, “stoner” is a pejorative (although a term of affection inside the circle), and here it was simply a lovefest of stoners with those who love marijuana sharing marijuana with others who love marijuana.

Despite all of the legal strides made with marijuana, even in Colorado — the most permissive place for marijuana on earth — open and public consumption is forbidden. A glaring sore spot for advocates, industry, and entrepreneurs is that even though one can possess marijuana, cultivate it, process, and consume it, the laws force the law-abiding user to consume in their residence and that’s about it. Pot clubs, where one can smoke a J or take a hit with friends off a pipe or bong are prohibited, in large part due to the smoking bans associated with tobacco that have been in place long before marijuana came to the front. But here at the Cannabis Cup, it was safe harbor, and as soon was the group I was with stepped into the sunlight, some members broke out their stash and, seemingly with the first inhale, came a larger and more audible exhale – perhaps recognition that in this time and place even more freedom, whether legal or not, was to be found.

As I waded into the neighborhood of vendor tents, I became quickly aware of just how large this nascent industry has become in just a short few years. It’s only going to get bigger — much bigger. There were vendors of every stripe hawking their wears from paraphernalia to hats and t-shirts, but all one had to do was look for the lines for what everyone was here for - free samples! But wait: just couple of weeks earlier the Colorado Department of Revenue - Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) issued an industry bulletin https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/15-03_MED_IndustryBulletin.pdf making it clear the Colorado licensees could not, pursuant to rule, offer free samples of product. Members of the regulated Colorado marijuana businesses complained loudly mostly about the late notice. Some opted to not even come. But their frustration must have boiled over when Saturday’s event started and their out-of-state competitors just started giving out free samples http://www.thecannabist.co/2015/04/18/cannabis-cup-denver-recap/33600. Due to the reporting of these acts I really expected that while the distribution of free samples would likely still be occurring, it would be more clandestine — it wasn’t. The lines were obvious, and attendees were often standing twelve-deep waiting for a chance to dab (smoking concentrated wax for the uninitiated). Meanwhile, at Colorado infused candy manufacturer EdiPure’s tent (a large, likely high-rent one), there was a deflated vibe as the had a lame pinwheel for giveaways of much less interesting items such as lighters.

The illicit action didn’t stop there though. I just happened to be walking by the tent of a California manufacturer of marijuana infused lollipops when I was saw the guy behind the counter empty out a bag of suckers and a small group sensing that something was for the offering swarmed. Soon enough greenbacks are being switched back and forth for product. This type of marijuana distribution remains illegal in Colorado. The vendor would discreetly take the cash and quickly stash it in a canvas bag. Most sucker consumers happily and patiently held out the money for the exchange. Only one consumer, aware of the nature of the transaction, with his hoody synched tightly around his head, took a quick glance backwards to both sides before handing over the money. This was but one example of illegal distribution that I witnessed.

One that was more blatant was a woman walking around with a box and a handwritten sign walking the aisles, seeking out buyers. Later, when I went inside to see the indoor vendors, I stopped at one of the High Times booths and was watching an old-style department store display case, with rotating Ferris wheel shelves displaying an impressive array of concentrates and edibles. A popular attraction, the guy waiting in line behind me shouted out to the guy behind the counter, decked out in High Times apparel, “Can I buy some of this?” From his laugh afterward I got the sense that that he knew and was joking with complete understanding of the illicit nature of the question. But then, the High Times staffer casually replied, “Wait till 8:00” (an hour after closing of the last day of the event).

Oh, I forgot to mention that when I first entered the cup I was handed a postcard-sized solicitation by Los Angeles-based CannaSutra and Lorax Labs, asking patrons to text in for a chance at winning a pound of flour/bud or 10 oz. of shatter (concentrate) — uh, that’s a felony in Colorado.

Where was law enforcement? Candidly, the only uniformed officers I saw were two Sheriff’s Deputies directing the heavy traffic that clogged the streets outside of the event. Were there undercovers inside? Perhaps, but even the untrained eye with a basic understanding of the law could see what was happening, so I’m guessing not. I didn’t see arrest.

In many of the legalization campaigns, the marijuana industry has argued that law enforcement should be spending their time solving “real” crime instead of pursuing marijuana offense. This is a false narrative. It’s not as though law enforcement is forgoing investigating a homicide just so more consumption summonses can be issued. Nonetheless, this message has gained traction with the voting public.

Post-legalization, the investigation and prosecution of marijuana crimes has become a complicated matter. For decades it has been that if an officer smelled marijuana, saw it, or there was a sign of it (i.e., accompanying paraphernalia), then there was probable cause. Now, where individuals are allowed to have an ounce (or three) when you have a medical marijuana card on you…and one can transport plants…and also grow and transport for their friends - it’s no longer so black and white. In fact, it has become so gray that it has led to inaction, and perhaps even indifference, on the part of law enforcement time and investment. The complicating factors are also a direct byproduct of how marijuana ballot measures are being drafted by advocates and industry with the implicit objective of making it difficult for marijuana cases to be investigated and prosecuted. Resignation on the part of law enforcement and prosecution. Mission accomplished, right? However, marijuana, regulated legal marijuana, is being sold to voters in a common political talking point as the means to an end to the criminal black market. Despite regulation it is well known in Colorado that the black market is alive and well. All the reasons why is the subject of another day. For proof merely go Craigslist Denver, using the terms “marijuana” & “donation,” and the results will produce a long list of people illegally selling marijuana. The sellers operate under the false assumption that the shell game of calling the exchange of money a “donation” is a gaping legal loophole – it’s not. Amendment 64, Colorado’s constitutional Amendment, that gave rise to recreational marijuana is explicit on this point.

The irony, of course, is that all of those regulated Colorado marijuana businesses that played by the rules clearly had their customer base stripped out from under them by blatant scofflaws, and will it be that same industry that has fought to keep police out of their business that will now be demanding law enforcement act, and start enforcing the law in order to eliminate black-market competition. In their hearts the answer might be “no,” but as marijuana grows up and the business world takes over the bottom line demands “yes.”

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