If you asked Mayor Michael Hancock how he felt about being dubbed the "Mile High Mayor" by the cannabis industry back in 2012, he probably would have said he didn't enjoy the title. But a lot can change in seven years.
"I don't think [legalization] has impacted Denver negatively at all," he told the audience inside a RiNo art gallery on April 15. "Now I think it's a good thing. We're helping set the pace."
An opponent of Colorado's decision to legalize recreational pot in 2012, Hancock has eased up on his objections since the sky has continued to hold up over Denver. The mayor even went so far as to talk about the city's cannabis successes with Bun B, a Houston hip-hop legend who isn't shy about his love for the plant. Appearing as part of a series of discussions hosted by Mezz Brands, a cannabis concentrate company responsible for Hancock's new nickname, Hancock and Bun B talked about everything from Denver's first days of dispensary sales to current struggles with social consumption.
Hancock didn't stop at admitting his changing position; he also attributed some of Colorado's tourism and population growth to legalization, even if the state's new residents and visitors aren't cannabis consumers. "They saw Denver as a city that was vibrant, progressive and energetic," he said. "I believe there was tourism boosting because of it."
The rapper wanted to go deeper than just asking about tax dollars and the early days, though. Both a frequent traveler and cannabis user, Bun B asked where tourists like him could consume cannabis if smoking or vaporizing pot is banned at their hotels.
"I guess the biggest question I face, as an artist, is where am I going to consume?" he told the mayor. "Nobody wants to come a city where weed is legal and leave with a weed case."
Public cannabis consumption is banned in Colorado. And despite having instituted a licensing program for social consumption establishments back in August 2017, the City of Denver has only approved two applications. Part of the problem, according to would-be potrepreneurs, is a location restriction banning any licensee from being within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, drug treatment centers and city-owned parks, pools and recreation centers, which essentially rules out any desirable spots. Denver City Council is currently considering a proposal that would cut that buffer to 500 feet for everything besides schools, which would stay at 1,000 feet, but Hancock said he opposes that measure.
"We thought that based off the current restrictions, we had enough places," he said. "We're still waiting for the city council's sausage-making process." But the audience didn't wait to pressure him for more answers about his position on social consumption during a public Q&A period.
"The question here is how far are we going to have these restrictions?" Hancock elaborated, noting that he'd be more amiable to a 750-foot buffer from the described locations. "That was one of the guiding issues from the community when we implemented this."
The mayor and Bun B went on to talk about challenges in creating policy around the cannabis industry and its consumers, and how important a collaborative approach is between city departments and cannabis stakeholders. That approach has been more visible as election season nears, with the Hancock administration recently urging Congress to address federal banking laws related to cannabis, and sending a letter to the U.S. Attorney General asking him to change an immigration policy that automatically denies the citizenship applications of cannabis-industry employees.
"It's good to see a city like this, in this country right now," Bun B told the mayor, before asking him one final hard-hitting question: "Will you smoke a joint with me?"
The mayor politely declined — but if he ever changes his mind, we'll have one rolled for him.
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