Denver Government

New Marijuana Business Licensing Rolls Out This Summer

Jacqueline Collins
After years of speculation and discussion, Denver is getting closer to a new licensing program for marijuana businesses that prioritizes entrepreneurs from communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

Mayor Michael Hancock signed two bills overhauling the city's marijuana licensing and hospitality programs while also creating a pot delivery program on April 20. The new rules reserve new pot licenses for social equity applicants through 2027, with the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses holding two public meetings on May 4 and May 6 to help prospective licensees learn about the new initiatives.

The license exclusivity was established in an attempt to ensure that communities harmed by the drug war can profit from legal marijuana; social equity applicants will also receive reduced fees for the licensing process and a waived application fee. To qualify, an applicant must be a Colorado resident who has been arrested for or convicted of a drug offense, was subject to civil asset forfeiture related to a drug investigation, or lived in a designated zone of low economic opportunity or high crime; anyone with a family member who has been subject to drug-related offenses would also be eligible.

City officials cautioned prospective social equity licensees about predatory practices that may exploit applicants and their soon-to-be coveted marijuana business licenses. Challenges for cannabis entrepreneurs and industry members due to pot's federally illegal status — such as difficulty accessing traditional baking, loans and limited options for credit — were also discussed.

A newly established state fund for social equity marijuana businesses will be established by the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade later this year, with around $4 million in low-interest loans and grants made available through 2024. As OEDIT goes through a rulemaking process to allocate the new funds, however, Denver Economic Development and Opportunity will offer mentorship opportunities to new marijuana business owners at the Commons on Champa business center, and has plans to provide social equity licensees with consulting services for legal, business and real estate challenges.

The city expects to begin accepting applications from social equity applicants in June, according to Excise and Licenses cannabis process navigator Joseph Peña. The department plans to hold more meetings and information sessions over the next month, he adds.