In the three weeks before Aug. 1, David Schiller says, he spent 12 hours of every day working on paperwork. He filled out forms on his financial and personal histories. He traveled to another state to notarize papers for his real estate holdings. He was overwhelmed, intruded upon, scrutinized. And when all was said and done, he held in his hands more than 700 pages — the records he needed to keep his business alive.
This summer, medical marijuana centers throughout Colorado had to meet three specific deadlines in order to comply with the demands of House Bill 1284, which required dispensaries to submit paperwork to acquire local, state and cultivation certifications by July 1, Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, respectively.
Schiller, owner of All Good Care Center in downtown Colorado Springs, was one of hundreds who went through this process. He would breathe small sighs of relief after each deadline, then plunge ahead to the next stack of legal forms.
"It was exhausting," he says.
Nicole Romero, owner of South Nevada Avenue's Apothecare Medicinal Center, shares a similar experience that came from sorting through 10 years of her own financial and legal history. She jokes that if there was anything she didn't know about herself, her spouse, or her children before the process began, she knows it now.
"The application process, going through all the paperwork, making sure you did everything correctly, looking at it two or three times, took me at least 80 hours," Romero says. "My stack of paperwork was about 2 feet high, and the more financial assets you have, the larger your stack of paperwork was.
"Your children, your spouse, anything they own or anything they've done could add to your paperwork. From the time the application was put out to actually turning it in, I was working on it every single day of that period."
She credits her accounting degree and her own organizational efforts for the relative ease with which she made it through the process; her 80 hours of work breezed by in comparison to the 250-plus hours that one owner says he put in.
"A lot of people were lost," Romero says.
Matt Cook, director of enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue, admitted that the lion's share of his own workload goes into efforts related to HB 1284, as the state goes about regulating a burgeoning industry.
"As far as paperwork goes, and depending on the nature of the applicant, there's a very extensive background search and disclosure process that certainly could generate a voluminous amount of work," he says. "This is a very complex background procedure that we use in various regulated occupations."
Still, several owners doubt that these piles of finance reports, personal background checks and fingerprints are really helping give the industry the credibility it's seeking, and that the state's promising.
"I don't know if filling out a couple of applications will really change too many minds here," says Patrick Warren of Mountain Made Meds, on the west side. "It's going to be a never-ending process of jumping through these hoops. I think the application process might have changed views for some people, but I don't think it did for many."
Romero agrees. "This city's fear of the industry is making it so much harder for it to be a legal business. Some people who were street dealers are going back to being street dealers because it's just more profitable."