By John Schroyer, FACE THE STATE
The drug business is just like any other—money is the motivating factor, pure and simple. And the state of Colorado is proving to be an excellent broker. So far this fiscal year, the state has pulled down nearly $3.4 million in medical marijuana registration fees and is on track to reap $11 million total by July. That’s because every Coloradan who wants to obtain a medical marijuana permit has to shell out $90 per application, and that kind of money piles up quickly.
Only one problem: The state is so far behind in processing applications that it can’t collect all the money it has coming. Officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which runs the registration program, estimate they have $5 million in un-cashed checks, with more to come this fiscal year ending June 30. And of the money the state has been able to collect so far, only a fraction actually has gone to the department itself, which bears the brunt of the paper pushing. The state’s operating budget claims the lion’s share of the pot revenue; only $849,000 was budgeted for the health department’s medical-marijuana office this year whereas the state’s General Fund has increased by $2.5 million, with more to come.
Because the department doesn’t have enough manpower to keep up with the enormous inflow of applications, officials aren’t sure exactly how much revenue has yet to come in. The state has been receiving roughly 10,000 applications per month for the past several months, up from less than 5,000 last October. But it can only process about 2,000 per month. That means the state probably is looking at hauling in millions more than it already has collected. And if the rate of applications continues going up, it’ll mean even more green—if only they can break through the backlog of applications.
The office in the health department that handles registration currently has a staff of 10, which is not nearly enough to process every application that comes in. Its budget was increased this past month by about $90,000 and is slated to go up to $2.1 million for the 2010-11 fiscal year. That will allow the department to hire an additional 12 staffers.
Still, it’s not enough to keep up with the growing mountain of applications. Right now, the department has 55,000 unprocessed applications. And $2.1 million just won’t cut it, officials said.
They may, however, be able to catch up if pending legislation slapping additional regulations on medical marijuana is approved. If it passes, more revenue would go straight into the health department’s medical marijuana office. There’s no way to know how much that could raise, though, so it may or may not be enough.
Without the additional infusion of cash, the department is likely to fall further and further behind.
Regardless, the situation could be enough for lawmakers to start considering the marijuana industry as more than just a bunch of crazy liberals waving signs in the streets that read “Legalize Now!” After all, there’s millions to be made.