In her years at the helm of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), Laura Harris admits she “didn’t have the same opposition toward [cannabis] that many in law enforcement did.”
“I was not a marijuana user… and of course I led a law enforcement agency,” said Harris, who was asked to launch and lead the MED in 2011 after many years directing the state’s Liquor Enforcement Division. “But I was very open-minded to [legalized cannabis] if it could work.”
It was a position that came with a unique set of challenges, said Harris, considering the uncharted territory she had to work within.
“There was absolutely no information about the industry to get started with, so it was very difficult in that respect, especially as far as revenue and expenditure projections,” she said.
“When you’re a regulator in that kind of atmosphere, you’re [always asking yourself]… how you can best serve the people, treat this as a legitimate industry and deal with both public safety issues and law enforcement concerns.”
One thing that made the whole process at least somewhat less of a headache, said Harris, was the endlessly positive and cooperative attitudes of those representing the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry.
“The industry members involved at that time were very much focused on making the licensing and enforcement system work, and were very cooperative in legitimizing the industry,” Harris told Civilized.
“I was very impressed by... their willingness to embrace the regulatory scheme, to be part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Now, just two years after she retired from the MED, Harris is switching teams to represent the industry leaders themselves as the executive director of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. Her new role will include overseeing cannabis bills that address business efficiencies within the industry, the goal being to ensure that the country’s premiere cannabis business association is thoroughly involved in legislative processes that concern its members.
“Our focus is on helping our members be successful economically… and a huge chunk of that right now is being very active in the rule-making processes,” said Harris. “I certainly know how the regulatory framework works from my many years in government... and I know people at the state level, so I think it’s going to be a very collaborative approach.”
There’s no doubting that a career regulating those for whom she now advocates will benefit Harris, who consistently dealt with “blowback from law enforcement and other groups” in her time at the state level.
“I have the tools to persuade and to collaborate with those who might be in opposition to some kind of business efficiency we want to create,” said Harris. “I actually think this job may be a little bit easier because my state job really prepared me for it.”