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Future of Colo. pot regulation still hazy after audit

Fast Eddy Aki'a of Hawaii smokes a joint as thousands gathered to celebrate the state's medicinal marijuana laws and collectively light up at 4:20 p.m. in Civic Center Park April 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

DENVER Colorado's troubled medical marijuana regulation agency spent too much on office furniture and staff cars, burning through cash needed to regulate the industry.

That was the conclusion Wednesday on the second day of a state audit into the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The report faulted regulators for setting ambitious micro-tracking goals for the drug and running out of money to implement seed-to-sale accountability.

The report also criticized the agency for spending up to $1,000 each on office chairs, then running out of funding.

The agency is under intense scrutiny because the agency will likely regulate recreational marijuana, with sales to begin next year. Agency heads told lawmakers they're making changes to save money and improve marijuana regulation.

The review paints a picture of an agency mired in administrative inefficiency. According to the audit, the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division spent an average of almost two years to issue final licensing decisions on applications submitted by August 1, 2010 and 41 percent of those applications are still pending approval.

The audit also says the agency had failed to take any new licensing appointments in the previous six months, "which creates a burden because individuals cannot legally work at a medical marijuana business without a license."

Marijuana tourism is one of the biggest questions facing pot regulators in Colorado. A special legislative panel looking at marijuana regulations plans to discuss the question Friday.

The constitutional amendment approved by voters last year allows marijuana use by adults over 21. It doesn't specify whether only Colorado residents can use the drug, prompting speculation about marijuana tourism.

A Colorado task force made up of law enforcement, government officials and marijuana advocates recommended that the state Legislature not step in. The task force says out-of-state visitors should be able to buy marijuana as long as they don't take it home. However, many state lawmakers are appalled at the idea of pot tourism.