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Marijuana and the Sharing Economy: The Top Government Regulatory Challenges of 2017

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Presidential politics has the tendency to drown out all other electoral storylines. If you're in need of proof, consider this: marijuana was legalized for either recreational or medical use in eight of nine states in which it was on the ballot, including the big one – California. Cannabis is now legal in some form in 28 out of 50 states, yet that headline has barely been discussed in the mainstream media. This is just one of several public policy issues that will challenge government officials in 2017.

Another is the sharing economy. State and local government officials throughout the U.S. have been trying to figure out how to handle the rise of Airbnb and ridesharing services Lyft and Uber for some time. In San Francisco, Airbnb hosts are now required to register and pay fees to the city. But of the 7,000+ residents who rent out their homes, only a little over a thousand have signed up. Many have complained about being forced to go to City Hall and wait in line to register as their primary reason for not registering.

As the New Year approaches, governments are grappling with new regulatory issues brought on by shifts in public opinion, like with marijuana, or by shifts in technology that have created new economic models, such as the sharing economy. Nearly 300 government technologists were recently surveyed about the biggest issues they anticipate facing in 2017. Notably, more than half of the survey participants said their primary concerns were around the regulation of marijuana and the sharing economy.

These public sector employees are not fortune tellers, but the findings show these issues are unlikely just fads. If our elected officials want to effectively manage these new industries and whatever comes next, they need to prioritize the use of modern agile government processes and technology. This will keep citizens safe and informed, while insuring that participants in these new economies are not deterred (from either participation, or compliance) by needless red tape or balky, outdated software. Luckily, there are examples of success waiting to be copied.

The City of Denver, Colorado, has been widely recognized for its dedication to improving citizens' experience with government. Their innovative use of technology is a model for the rollout of an efficient and transparent legalized marijuana regulatory system. Last year, Denver collected over $40 million of revenue from marijuana sales to fund statewide education programs to build new schools and upgrade old ones. This year, Denver became the first city in the nation to deliver a streamlined, online, registration system for short-term rental hosts.

The Mile High City had the combination of modern technology and design minded innovators in place to quickly respond to these emerging challenges. How other local and state governments from around the country end up addressing these regulatory issues in 2017 will vary. But one thing is certain, if agencies don't start preparing now, they will be missing out on a substantial amount of benefit for both their residents and treasuries.

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As Director of Government Relations for Accela, Tim Woodbury helps governments leverage technology to deliver better services and improve citizen engagement. A self-confessed “good government geek,” Tim works with government, associations and community leaders to translate policy priorities into real-world results. His current projects cover issues such as economic development, sustainability, resiliency, public safety and open data.


Prior to joining Accela, Tim served as an advisor to U.S. Senator Tom Udall and as a government relations professional at Accenture, a technology and consulting firm.


Tim holds a law degree from American University, Washington College of Law, and received both his Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Bachelor's degree from the University of New Hampshire.

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Guest Sunday, 26 February 2017