Op-Ed: Dear Mayor Hancock, All Dispensaries Are Essential

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock Brandon Marshall
Dear Mayor Michael Hancock,

I’ll be real: I do not envy your position as of late. Steering the region’s largest city through this constant frustration, this unabashed tragedy, this disgusting episode of Black Mirror (written in deference to the protest sign meme, which I can’t get out of my head lately).

As a Lincoln Park resident and small business owner who lives alongside the rapidly evolving news cycle for professional purposes, this whole COVID-19 thing really has me down, Mr. Hancock. As I told a colleague today, I feel like I’m constantly on the precipice of vomiting.

And most of my family would call me an optimist!

Count me among your many concerned constituents in these uncertain times. And while I don’t envy the weighty responsibility you carry, with the many impossible decisions that come with your job title, I do need to talk with you about the future of the American cannabis dispensary — and how it’s now a necessary part of life for many.

When shit gets real, and when municipalities shut down, we Denverites need to know we can get gas in our Subarus and groceries in our kitchens and prescriptions in our cabinets, and microdosed 1:1 ratio THC:CBD coconut-lime gummies in our vegetable drawers.

I jest (though they’re delicious), but I’m also still being real.

Cannabis is medicine, fact. Nobody should restrict access to medicine, even in maddening times like these, fact. And so access to cannabis must be considered an essential service.


This is about what is best for the greater good, Mr. Hancock — plus, all the cool kids are doing it.

Pennsylvania’s department of health, Illinois’s governor, New Mexico’s regulators, Ohio’s governor, New Jersey’s governor, Maryland’s governor, New York state’s health department, Connecticut’s governor, Washington state’s governor and others — they have all declared medical cannabis dispensaries an essential service.

Massachusetts’s governor said the same thing, while simultaneously shuttering recreational cannabis dispensaries — similar to your misguided move on Monday, March 23, Mr. Hancock, which you walked back three hours later after Denverites flooded dispensaries with the kind of lines we haven’t seen since these adult-use dispensaries first opened in January 2014 (and I’ll have more to say about that shortly).

click to enlarge Ricardo Baca chats with cannabis pioneer and California dispensary owner Steve DeAngelo. - COURTESY OF GRASSLANDS/PHOTO BY ANDY COLWELL
Ricardo Baca chats with cannabis pioneer and California dispensary owner Steve DeAngelo.
Courtesy of Grasslands/Photo by Andy Colwell
And perhaps most important, top-level state regulators in massive COVID-19 hotspot California said all cannabis dispensaries are essential services.

Before I continue, let’s take a brief respite to consider this sudden leap in the progressive drug policy reform movement:

In 2020, multiple states are on record having mandated cannabis dispensaries as essential services alongside pharmacies and hospitals. This is legit-historic, and big ups to the legendary advocates who have done so much in decades past to legalize what should have never been made illegal to begin with.

Including Dennis Peron, the father of medical marijuana, whom I was lucky enough to meet a few times in the Bay Area. A gentle giant who passed in 2018, Peron used to say that all cannabis use is medical.

And that is why, Mr. Hancock, this also has nothing to do with the purpose of a medical marijuana dispensary versus a recreational cannabis dispensary.

People actually get their medicine at both, according to medical journals.

“In a survey of adult use customers, we found that the majority reported taking cannabis to relieve pain or to promote sleep,” reported the authors of a study of 1,000 Colorado cannabis consumers published in The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in 2019. “In addition, most respondents taking cannabis for pain or sleep reported substituting cannabis for prescription or over-the-counter analgesics or sleep aids.”

Mr. Hancock, the study authors found that 65 percent of adult-use-only respondents buying marijuana in recreational shops are consuming cannabis for pain relief — an efficacious treatment option that is gaining legitimacy, as I discussed in my first TEDx Talk — in an era when we still lose too many to painkillers across the country, and also here in the city and county.

Marijuana is not without its limited risks, sure, but one of these painkillers is not like the other.

So if a majority of consumers are shopping at recreational dispensaries for medical purposes, their access to marijuana should be treated with the same seriousness as the card-carrying patient shopping at a medical dispensary.

And I say that as a former Colorado-registered medical cannabis patient who let his red card lapse (back when they were still red cards) — and have continued shopping at adult-use stores ever since to treat my various maladies.

I am certainly not alone in this move to the adult-use market, as Associated Press data points out. And I don’t want anyone else in my shoes to lose access, either.

Thank you for eventually making the right call to keep Denver dispensaries open in the coming months as the COVID-19 situation inevitably escalates, as we know it will; I’m just sorry about how it all played out on a chaotic Monday afternoon. (But hopefully you and your colleagues learned something about how important access to cannabis is to your constituents, myself included.)

I remain, Mr. Hancock, a Denver native, a small business owner, a journalist, a husband, a father (two chiweenies and an elderly Maine Coon), a commercial property owner and your constituent.

Ricardo Baca

Ricardo Baca is a former reporter for the
Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, former editor-in-chief of the Cannabist, a two-time TEDx veteran and founder of strategic public relations firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected]
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