Denver Officials Tell Pot Industry How to Get Up to Code

Running a cannabis business can have more lows than highs if you don't have the right permits.
Jacqueline Collins
Running a cannabis business can have more lows than highs if you don't have the right permits.
Operating a legal cannabis business comes with a unique allure, but it also comes with a lot of obstacles and confusion. To help Denver's 1,149 active cannabis-business licensees learn how to navigate the building, zoning and safety challenges of an evolving industry, representatives from several of the City of Denver's regulatory agencies held a forum on March 7 to discuss common issues faced by pot establishments.

During the two-hour session, representatives of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, as well as Community Planning and Development, Public Health and Environment and the Fire Department, were on hand for a free study session on current and upcoming challenges for the industry, such as zoning and building-plan submission, fire-safety plans, gender-neutral bathroom signs and the city's new green-roof initiative.

"Some folks in this industry weren't familiar with building codes, fire inspections and that whole process," Community Planning and Development Building Official Scott Prisco said. "We do it with all different industries in Denver."

Nearly 150 pot business owners and executives had signed up to attend the forum, receiving updates and survival tips from the local agencies that oversee dispensaries, cultivations and infused-product manufacturers. Although the state Marijuana Enforcement Division regulates every pot business in Colorado, its oversight is more broad than that of the local law enforcement and regulatory agencies that conduct business inspections and issue permits to current and prospective pot companies.

According to Community Planning and Development spokeswoman Laura Swartz, the city regularly holds similar forums for commercial and residential issues, such as adding swimming pools and roof maintenance for homes and businesses. As city agencies continued receiving inquiries from pot-business owners, Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy decided that a high-level overview was needed.

"We know it's a lot of information," Kilroy told a room full of note-scribbling potrepreneurs. "We really did this because we get these questions from you."

The meeting was Denver's latest attempt to build a rapport among city agencies and the relatively new pot industry, which faced comparatively lax regulations until retail sales began in 2014. Although systems regarding such matters as odor control, floor-plan requirements, electricity usage and safety measures are still evolving, the meeting represented a long journey from three years ago, when Kilroy, the city's pot czar at the time, and Fire Department officials complained of dozens of unregulated cultivations posing rampant electrical and fire dangers throughout Denver.

"We had been receiving a lot of questions from within the industry and just wanted to get as many people together in the same room as we could," Excise and Licenses public affairs administrator Bia Campbell said.

"We cover other issues at our quarterly meetings" with the Denver City Council, she noted, which focus on social issues such as public consumption and pot's alleged links to homelessness.