Debate Over Future of Denver Marijuana Licensing Continues

A dab ring burns inside the Honey Pot Lounge, a now-closed marijuana social consumption lounge in Denver.
Jacqueline Collins
A dab ring burns inside the Honey Pot Lounge, a now-closed marijuana social consumption lounge in Denver.
Denver is still searching for a way to balance new businesses and industry diversity within legal marijuana as a city advisory committee wraps up discussions on future marijuana licensing policy.

The city's Marijuana Licensing Work Group — a 24-person panel created earlier this year to advise Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver City Council on potential marijuana delivery and hospitality businesses with a social equity lens in mind — met Tuesday, September 29, for the fifth time to discuss the future of Denver's marijuana licenses. Although much of that future still looks hazy, with no scheduled meetings left and the recommendations scheduled to be delivered to the mayor and city council by November, there was some resolution in future social equity matters.

Marijuana delivery and social consumption were legalized at the state level earlier this year, but the laws allow local governments to opt in or out of the new license types. (Denver has allowed social pot consumption businesses at the local level since 2017, but the city's rules are more strict than the new state law's.) We still don't know if Denver will ultimately opt into delivery or social consumption, but the final MLWG discussion shows that socially equitable licensing preferences will likely be involved if delivery and social consumption expansions are approved.

The Denver licensing committee supported a new state definition of who is eligible for social equity marijuana business licenses. The definition, passed by the Colorado General Assembly in June and written to ensure that those negatively affected by the War on Drugs can own marijuana businesses, doesn't mandate that towns must implement a social equity program, but it provides a baseline definition for programs at the state level and an example for localities to follow.

However, financial hurdles remain for new pot-business owners after licensure, with some committee consideration given to city-funded support systems for future social equity licensees. Organizations such as the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative have proposed programs funded by marijuana tax revenue to provide capital or loans to social equity businesses, as well as mentorship programs involving current marijuana industry leaders. However, there has been pushback on the source of the funding, with other suggestions including creating fees for future marijuana deliveries or dipping into revenue from marijuana business fines.

The panel did not cover all topics heavily, discussing marijuana hospitality briefly and running out of time before members could discuss delivery license implementation.

The Denver Department of Excise and Licenses hopes to deliver licensing recommendations to the mayor and city council members by late October or early November. There are no future meetings scheduled for the MLWG at this time.