Medical marijuana: Could dispensaries be allowed to share same block in Denver?

After U.S. Attorney John Walsh sent closure threats to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries near schools (and vowed that he wasn't bluffing about the shut-down warnings), observers began to fear that MMCs would have few places to move in Denver due in part to rules that centers be at least 1,000 feet from each other. But could that edict change?

That's one of the ideas being floated by Denver City Council president Chris Nevitt, who believes such a shift would be possible in spite of state laws that mention the same 1,000 feet distance requirement.

"There's flexibility built into the state code," Nevitt says. "So, if I understand it correctly -- and I'm not a lawyer, I just play one every night -- local jurisdictions can substitute their own proximity regulations."

With that in mind, Nevitt sees relaxing the dictate as a viable option, especially given his view that the requirement was of dubious value from the get-go.

"You can think of the restriction in a number of ways," he allows. "One way is to say, 'Oh, we're not going to overburden an area with MMCs. And another way to think about it is, you're creating a 2,000 feet monopoly for one center, because no one can move closer than 1,000 feet to them. And we're also saying that we're going to take these things and spread them around as much as possible. So if the market bears five or ten centers on Broadway, say, you're saying those ten centers are going to be spread out along 10,000 feet. Whereas I think it make a whole lot more sense to have them closer to each other, so they compete. That way, the crappy ones are driven out of business by the good ones, and we have an easier time regulating them

"The 1,000-feet-from-each other rule never made any sense to me. It seemed perverse. We went along with it as part of our overall regulations, but in the context of the U.S. Attorney's action, I think we need to make sure that these businesses, which are employing people, paying sales taxes, doing tenant finishes and producing revenue, don't go away, but find a place to move to. And if that regulation is in the way, we need to find a way to revisit it."

At this point, the council hasn't rushed forward with such changes because members have not been inundated by complaints from dispensaries ordered to relocate about being unable to find a new home. But if such calls come, Nevitt will be ready.

"From our perspective, Denver was really first out of the gate with local regulation of medical marijuana, and I think we've done a really good job," he maintains. "The approach we've taken is, these are legal businesses that want to contribute to our economy, that want to create jobs, that want to invest in these spaces, and we welcome that. We are not interested in driving anybody out of business. We can't control the U.S. Attorney, and if the U.S. Attorney is saying these ones that are near schools have to go, they've got to go, even though they've been grandfathered in. We don't want to see all these businesses go down the toilet. We're not okay with that.

"There is an aesthetic component to this," he concedes. "Some people don't like them, and say the neighborhood has gone to hell. But they're not in neighborhoods. They're in commercial districts, and our experience so far is that they're pretty good businesses. There's a lot less crime associated with them than there is with either bars or even banks. And no one would complain if Broadway became Denver's banking center."

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Med. marijuana: Eric Holder okay with lawful MMCs, but do threats remain?"

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