What's Next for Ganjapreneur Kayvan Khalatbari After Selling to Willie Nelson

He co-founded one of the first dispensaries in Denver and, earlier this month, he sold it to Willie Nelson for his Willie's Reserve operation. Now Kayvan Khalatbari, who was featured in our January 2, 2014, roundup of leading ganjapreneurs, is looking ahead to other ways he can contribute to Denver's ever-evolving culture through art and advocacy. Khalatbari sat down with Westword to discuss what he's doing next, his thoughts on Denver's growth, and whether he'd consider another run for Denver City Council or even mayor.

Westword: Talk about the Cannabis Symposium in October.

Kayvan Khalatbari:
It’s a symposium on October 26, which is the front end of the Marijuana Management Symposium the city throws at the convention center. We’re going to have a day totally committed to stewardship and have all these traditional folks, utility and technology people, operators in the industry, come and speak about what you can do right now that will impact the business positively and the environment positively, but also long-term best practices that we’re creating internally.

On leading the national discussion on social issues, supporting small businesses and, yes, cannabis:

Denver cares about small business. We're very libertarian. Take Denver as this little island in a sea of red, — even the red is very libertarian, very small government, very stay-out-of-my-back-yard — and all of those mesh well together in all the progress we've seen socially here. Whether it's on the cannabis issue or LGBTQ rights or gun control, we're leading the nation in a lot of these dialogues, even if we're not always getting the results we want, necessarily. We're talking about it more than a lot of other places that exist in this country that deal with a lot of the same issues.

Denver has been a central place in America as someplace that's been very visible because of cannabis. And because of these other issues, we've had a chance to set a good example, and we need really creative thinkers to come together with the city and collaborate. If all these stakeholders work together, I think we can come to some good foundational solutions. They might not be the long-term solutions, but they're at least well thought-out, with everybody involved, so that we have a good start that we can pull from.

Talk about bridging the gap between the cannabis industry and the city:

 The cannabis industry and the art community — those are two communities that do not trust the city and are very hesitant to work with the city. But there are people — not necessarily in the Mayor’s Office or in city council, but in these departments — who want to work with residents and have really great intentions and can make a lot of cool things happen. I want to be someone who’s trusted on both sides, who can engage in a dialogue.

I think most inaction occurs as a result of people not trusting each other. When people go to the City, it’s often because they have to. It’s because you have to apply for a permit or a license; it’s not because you want to find some creative collaboration with them or find a way the City can benefit you outside of this moment in time — and there are a lot of opportunities out there.

And the City is very hesitant to reach out to these communities, or tries and it doesn’t work because of that distrust — so nobody gets anywhere. As much as I can bring those folks together, be a mediator in that process, I think everyone will benefit.

Possibility of another mayoral run?

The city council run was kind of a faux run for mayor. I’ve thought about doing that again just because I’m not thrilled with the mayoral candidates who are likely running. Mayor Michael Hancock and Albus Brooks are two folks right up there. I don’t really appreciate either one of them. I don't think they’re good for Denver. I think that they’re counterproductive to a lot of issues that are important to the city, and I think they’re really in the pockets of the Downtown Denver Partnership and other corporate entities. It’s great they’re bringing money into the city; if you look at all the small businesses and communities we have, the creative communities, those bring in a hell of a lot more money than the fucking 16th Street Mall.

I think they need to be more considerate of the communities around downtown and not always think of what’s best for downtown. So if I can engage in that process, if it means a fake run or a real one, where I’m just trying to be a rabblerouser to try and keep them honest, if I go in not giving a shit if I win or not, I’m more likely to be honest and have an honest dialogue with them.

If you did run, what would you focus on?

Affordable housing is something city council has really not done enough to perpetuate a solution to. We're very much giving in to developers that wish to create housing that is for people who are coming in with a lot of money, to get them central. That is really tearing apart a lot of the communities that have existed.... There are a lot of creative ideas out there. Chris Chiari, who is part of Capitol Hill United Neighbors — he had this idea and people are thinking about this, but we don't have the zoning ability or the building codes to bring these to fruition. Why not have fifty micro-units in a building that doesn't have any parking associated with it because it's a bike community? There are enough people who would fill that up without having to worry about where people are going to park their cars. Why should you have to have these required parking spaces for your development if so many people are riding bikes?

Another issue?

What's the point of expanding the interstate? It's been proven over and over in all these different cities and jurisdictions across the world that that just puts more people on the roads, as opposed to finding other solutions, as opposed to finding a need for more robust public transportation.... We're pushing people to drive more. I-70 is a Colorado interstate, yet Denver taxpayers are paying for it. That blows my mind.... It is not a good solution. There are plenty of examples around the world that show this is not a good idea, yet our city council continues to push it without any consideration for any other people who are going to be negatively impacted by it. 

On Denver maintaining what’s good:

I always struggle with wanting the government to stay out of my business, but also needing some interaction from them to maintain what is already good. Government shouldn’t necessarily be about perpetuating change, but about retaining what is already good and there, and I don’t think they fight for existing interests enough. They fight for new, progressive interests that are inconsiderate of the people who built Denver and made it the reason it became so desirable in the first place.

We’re tearing apart these creative communities in Denver that made it such a great place for people to visit. It's just diluting our culture. Denver is going through a kind of growing pain right now where we don't have an identity. We were this cowtown for a while, and then it became not so much of a cowtown, and now we're this kind of progressive urban city that doesn't really have any values.

There's so much opportunity. That's what gives me the opportunity to find these cool projects to work on and why the city is interested in working with people like me on them — because I want to collaborate and work with them on doing neat things that might be part of defining Denver in this new era.