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Marijuana Regs Top List of Challenges for Accela Expertise Center

The center is designed to help government address the tech issues in emerging areas such as environmental health and the regulation of legalized pot.

In a bid to spread best practices and build early relationships with governments, Accela has launched a “Center of Expertise” to help the public sector work better, especially in emerging areas.

The center will be stocked with subject matter experts, beginning with two who have long backgrounds in marijuana regulation and environmental health. Darryl Booth, who is bringing the environmental health expertise to the center, said the idea is to help government employees learn from others instead of doing things themselves.

The company will be looking at customer experience to guide the topic areas it seeks to address, but there are already some additional areas it is watching: short-term rentals, artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles.

The center is not just for Accela customers — in fact, the idea is to help people whether they need technology or not.

“When a need is established, we’re (already) there,” Booth said. “When an RFP and procurement process happens, we’re there.”

Booth has been serving as senior vice president and general manager of Accela’s environmental health division, and joined the company in 2015 when Accela acquired his previous environmental health firm, Decade Software. Before the acquisition, Booth was already engaged in work similar to that of Accela’s center with a committee in Colorado where the state Department of Public Health and Environment was helping local governments align their data management efforts.

He was impressed with the group’s approach to coordinating efforts between jurisdictions that all had the same goals, but used different approaches and technology to get there.

“Whenever I see opportunities like that, I pursue them. It’s responsible governance,” he said. “The phrase ‘best practice’ is used so much, and I’ll use it here, but it doesn’t happen organically. It requires leadership.”

Though the Center of Expertise isn’t a sales shop, Accela does offer software solutions in the areas it will address. In public and environmental health, Accela offers mobile software for inspectors to log information in the field, as well as tools to inventory the various systems that government workers need to monitor. For marijuana, Accela has licensing and permitting technology that can help streamline and track the process of a business applying for permission to operate.

Judy Steele, who will serve as a marijuana regulation and technology expert for the center, recently joined Accela. She met Ed Daihl, the company’s new chief executive, at the Denver Marijuana Symposium in October.

Steele has a history with using Accela for marijuana regulation at the local level. In fact, she can boast some of the most solid credentials in the world on that front; Steele was at the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses when it had to put its technology solutions in place to regulate recreational marijuana businesses. For that purpose, she helped implement Accela’s software.

She went on to help the California Department of Food and Agriculture, as well as the Department of Consumer Affairs, implement Accela for their own marijuana regulations. And then she helped the city of Aurora, Colo., too.

Since Colorado was one of the states at the forefront of legalizing recreational marijuana, the government employees who were there to set up the regulatory framework and technology supporting it have become highly sought-after experts in other jurisdictions now going through the same process. In fact, Lewis Koski and Andrew Freedman, who were involved in those efforts at the state level in Colorado and worked with Steele in her post in Denver, have built a consulting business out of it.

In most states that have legalized marijuana (following Vermont, it’s likely that more states will go that route in 2018) Steele said there is a natural process that allows local government to spend some time seeking out advice in order to build a regulatory system based on the success of others.

“My experience is you see (regulation) at the state level, and then the locals come in and say whether they’re going to opt in or opt out — that seems to be consistent across the states — and then they decide on a regulatory framework,” she said.

Steele sees her new role bringing value to the table for governments faced with regulating a new industry in a couple of ways. Where she can, she’ll bring best practices and data from her own experience in Denver and from other governments she’s worked with. But she can also bring something that the people filling government boots on the ground don’t get a whole lot of: empathy.

“I’ve been in their position before, and I understand the pressures they’re faced with, having to respond to city council,” she said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.