Denver Shares Pot Knowledge, Frustrations With Cities Near and Far

Pesticide use, hash oil explosions, odor issues and media scrutiny are just some of the challenges discussed at the City of Denver's Marijuana Management Symposium – a two-day conference at which city and state marijuana administrators are sharing their regulatory experiences with outside communities. The gathering runs through today at the Colorado Convention Center.

In a series of strikingly honest roundtable discussions, representatives from Denver's Marijuana Policy Office, Department of Excise and Licenses, fire department and city attorney's office spoke to government employees, industry representatives and potential marijuana regulators from around the world about Denver's first two years of legal recreational marijuana. Their knowledge is definitely in demand, since more than ten states could have medical or recreational marijuana measures on their ballots in 2016.

People traveled from as far as Amsterdam for a glimpse inside the cannabis case study that is Denver, but most of the 150-plus attendees came from smaller Colorado communities in hopes of learning how to successfully implement medical and recreational marijuana sales or improve their current systems. "We're a small town in southwestern Colorado that has been considering retail marijuana," said Eric Grossman, the mayor of Creede. "This is invaluable for us as we go forward with this."

Representatives of Denver's marijuana regulatory framework dove into evolving issues that Grossman and others might never dream would become tricky: hours of operation, zoning, distances from schools and more. Their motto? Collaboration.

"We've been through the Jimmy Fallon late-night jokes. Now we can move on from that,' said Daniel Rowland, Denver's citywide communications advisor. "These (marijuana) implementations affect everyone in the community, so you have to make implementations that are unique to your community."

Multiple panelists explained that meeting and discussing issues with all stakeholders and agencies were essential to making Denver's groundbreaking legalization effort a success. Communication between city officials, industry members, consumer representatives and law enforcement were critical in identifying and fixing problems quickly, noted Denver's Executive Director of Marijuana Policy, Ashley Kilroy, who has headlined efforts against everything from unregulated industrial grows to home hash oil extractions in Denver.

"We had something like eight home explosions that year because of hash oil extraction, so we banned solvent hash oil extraction," Kilroy said. "But then we were shown that hash oil can be made with isopropyl alcohol at low temperatures without explosion, so we changed. It's about getting it right."

Part of doing so is admitting what you don't understand. Since March, numerous commercial marijuana grows in Denver have had quarantines and recalls placed on hundreds of thousands of plants and products because of potentially harmful pesticide residues, something Denver's marijuana administrators knew little to nothing about. With virtually no guidance from the federal government, the city decided to lead the charge.

"We might make it sound like it was calm, but it was not calm," Kilroy said. "Industry people were like, 'What are they doing?' We were figuring it out."

Denver figured it out by using its fire and environmental health departments to enforce quality control with inspections for hazardous products, something that was unsuccessfully challenged in court by two of the offending grows. Since then, Kilroy said the city has had six meetings with industry stakeholders and one with consumer group Cannabis Consumers Coalition in efforts to get an understanding of safe pesticide use.

At the first day of the gathering, communication was the theme for speakers and attendees alike — even neighbors who didn't come far to attend the confab. Englewood is fewer than ten miles from Denver and currently considering becoming the first town in America to license marijuana consumption clubs. Its deputy city clerk, Stephanie Carlile, said face-to-face pot meetings with other officials could help smooth over a lot of bumps encountered by metro area cities.

"We've been corresponding, but none of us have ever come together like this," Carlile said. "It super helpful for everyone to come together."

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