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Marijuana cafes and supplies could soon become licensed and fully operational in Denver if the Denver City Council follows the recommendations of an advisory council approved by Mayor Michael Hancock’s government.
Colorado Legislature passed laws to legalize marijuana delivery and social use businesses in 2019, with medical marijuana delivery and social use laws going into effect this year and recreational delivery going online in 2021. However, the local government must opt for the new laws before social use and delivery is allowed, and Colorado’s largest city and the state’s cannabis capital have not yet done so.
The Denver Marijuana Licensing Working Group, composed of public health officials and local government, members of the pot industry, child welfare advocates, and other community stakeholders, has been meeting since May to propose ways to update the city’s marijuana policy to work out. These recommendations, published December 7th, describe enhancements that enable indoor smoking in certified businesses, lounges for mobile consumption, discounted royalties for social equity entrepreneurs, and recreational and medical marijuana delivery.
The city’s Marijuana Policy Bureau and Department of Excise and Licensing will conduct public reviews of the proposed ordinances on December 15 and 17 for further feedback before the measures are presented to the city council. There is no fixed date on which the Council will vote on the new regulations. Written public feedback is accepted until January 4th, subject to excise duty and license. However, the department is optimistic that the new rules will be implemented by the second quarter of 2021 and that delivery and social enterprises will be up and running by the third quarter.
Denver is currently working as part of a local initiative that licenses social pot use companies. However, this program prohibits indoor smoking and prohibits any social institution from working within 300 meters of rehabilitation centers, schools, urban leisure centers and daycare centers. The proposed rules perpetuate these setbacks, but much of the remaining recommendations are in line with new state hospitality laws.
Under the hospitality policy proposed by the MLWG, companies such as marijuana dispensaries, cafes, yoga and art studios, restaurants, and other establishments could apply for marijuana hospitality licenses. Micro-sales licenses for companies wanting to sell small quantities of marijuana in their consumption areas would also be available. Pot hospitality companies couldn’t allow marijuana use between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m., and tobacco and alcohol were banned at all times.
The advisory group recommends making marijuana delivery permits available by July 2021, and advocates that permits be only available to applicants who qualify as social justice marijuana entrepreneurs. The term for social justice, a definition passed by lawmakers earlier this year, stipulates that a qualified social justice applicant must be a Colorado resident who has been arrested or convicted of a marijuana offense, or in a designated area with has lived with little economic opportunities or high crime; Anyone with a family member who has been subjected to marijuana-related offenses would also be eligible.
Eric Escudero, director of communications for excise and licensing, admits the proposed rules “don’t make everyone happy,” but adds that the work of the advisory group of Hancock, a past opponent of the use of social pots, and members of the Denver city council , Candi CdeBaca and, supported, Chris Hinds both sat on the MLWG board.
According to the proposal, social equity company owners will receive a 50 percent discount on company license fees. Proponents of minority marijuana business owners also pushed for low-interest loans or grants for social justice marijuana entrepreneurs, but such funding was not included in the MLWG’s recommendations. Discussions about a depleted city budget and concerns about possible discrimination claims arose frequently during the group’s meetings.
“If it weren’t for the pandemic, and if America, the state, and the city weren’t in financial trouble, I’d be overly concerned about it,” said John Bailey, founder of the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative and board member of MLWG. “But there’s so much going on that we have to find out, either philanthropically from foundations or from industry, or a tax on delivery – something to use those dollars for social justice.”
Bailey plans to push state lawmakers on a bill to set up startup funds for social justice marijuana entrepreneurs, and has worked with industry associations like the Marijuana Industry Group, the Cannabis Trade Federation, and Colorado Leads to create private-sector-funded programs develop.
“It’s a mixed deal for me … there is a sense of urgency here. Business as usual has not been beneficial for color communities,” he says. “At least it gives us a guide and some ways to measure where we are.”
Other Colorado communities are currently considering the new marijuana business permits. Aurora City Council approved a first reading measure on the supply of recreational marijuana on December 7, while the Boulder, Longmont and Superior governments have already begun allowing medical marijuana deliveries. Dillon, Glendale, and Adams Counties have also recently turned to marijuana hospitality.
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Thomas Mitchell has been writing about everything cannabis-related for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news en route to publications like the Republic of Arizona, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.