“Toward this objective, the Commission will require additional funding to support hiring, particularly within our licensing and enforcement division. This budget will enable the Commission to continue our growth and potentially add up to 34 new” full-time employee equivalent positions, commission Executive Director Shawn Collins wrote in the agency’s budget letter to the committee. “In combination with IT and operational enhancements, hiring more Investigators and Licensing Specialists will enable the Commission to process applications on a quicker timeline while also ensuring continued compliance with state law and adherence to our mission.”
For the commission to meet its goal, it will take a total fiscal 2021 operations budget of $12.4 million, a $2.8 million increase over the fiscal 2020 funding level, Chairman Steven Hoffman said. The total commission budget request, which includes the medical marijuana program and a statewide public awareness campaign, is $16.3 million.
“This is going to sound, I know, a little self-serving and I apologize of that, but if we can increase the number of licensing personnel we have, we can increase the number of licenses and we can increase the amount of tax revenue that we generate, so I believe it is a good investment,” Hoffman said.
Upset with the licensing process and the pace of regulatory reviews, prospective marijuana business owners in recent months have interrupted commission meetings and later aired their frustrations with the agency at a public hearing dedicated to hearing from “applicants who feel they don’t have enough information about the status of their applications.”
The funding level requested, Collins wrote to the committee, would allow the commission to “also implement both technical changes to streamline processing and improve not only the user experience, but enhance public disclosure, and increase staffing to meet demand for licensing.”
Since its inception in September 2017, the commission has written and rewritten regulations governing the newly legal industry, and has overseen the launch of legal retail marijuana sales. To date, the commission has licensed 246 marijuana establishments, including 72 cultivators and farmers who are growing almost 2.1 million square feet of marijuana canopy in the state, the agency said. It has also licensed more than 7,600 people to work at marijuana establishments.
Hoffman said the commission has opened 92 marijuana establishments, including 37 retail stores. He said the additional funding for licensing and enforcement personnel is crucial because “we will have at least double that number open in the next 12 months.” Hoffman said his back-of-the-envelope math puts the number of retail marijuana outlets that the state can eventually sustain at roughly 250.
In its written budget request, the commission said it is already working to publish a queue of all pending applications so the public and the applicants can know where a particular application stands in the review and approval process.