Marijuana: Pretty cool, but no big deal anymore. Not to Denver City Council, anyway.
Proposals that would allow for marijuana delivery, hospitality and licensing programs passed their second and final votes with little fanfare during the April 19 council meeting, setting the stage for one of the largest overhauls of local marijuana regulations since recreational sales began on January 1, 2014.
The Colorado Legislature had passed bills legalizing marijuana delivery and hospitality services at the state level in 2019, but under those laws, municipalities must opt in to their own programs. The two proposals allowing the new pot businesses, submitted by the city's Department of Excise and Licenses after nearly two years of stakeholder meetings, moved through council with little obstacle or comment, and passed unanimously — along with a proposal that will set up new licensing procedures — in a package with a handful of other bills.
"You know cannabis has arrived when marijuana bills pass through Denver City Council with literally no comment. That never would have happened in the old days," says Truman Bradley, director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade organization that represents Colorado pot businesses.
If Mayor Michael Hancock signs the bills the day after council approval, as he normally does, the measures will get their executive seal of approval on April 20, or 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday that has a special connection to Denver.
As a result of these bills, Denver will soon permit both medical and recreational deliveries within city limits, following most of the rules set forth by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division. Delivery will be cut off at the local dispensary closing time of 10 p.m., orders can only be delivered to residential addresses, and those placing the order will have to show their IDs to the delivery driver. Deliveries will be limited to 1 ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate, or edibles containing 800 milligrams of THC. According to the MED, three businesses have already received their state permits for recreational delivery, and one has been approved for medical delivery — though they all need local licenses before they can operate in Denver.
The city will now accept social marijuana consumption applications from more types of businesses, and will allow indoor smoking, micro-sales and mobile lounges, none of which were acceptable under the city's previous hospitality program. However, the soon-to-be former hospitality program's 1,000-foot buffer between a social-use business and any daycare center, drug treatment center and city-owned park, pool or recreation center will remain in place. Under those restrictions, only one business is currently licensed, with the majority of social pot use taking place at private or unregulated venues.
The new rules also allow permanent to-go windows at dispensaries, a temporary business adjustment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A social equity package included in one of the marijuana bills now requires that all new marijuana business licenses in Denver except testing laboratory licenses be reserved until 2027 for owners who qualify under a social equity designation. That definition, adopted by the legislature at the end of the 2020 session, stipulates that a qualified applicant must be a state 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.
“We appreciate the city council demonstrating their commitment to social equity and modernizing Denver’s cannabis rules and regulations with their passage of this historic legislation. It’s satisfying to see the outreach our agency did for more than two years to craft these changes has resulted in the passage of this legislation," Excise and Licenses Executive Director Ashley Kilroy says in a statement about the proposals' passage. "Now the even harder work begins as we dedicate our efforts to getting the licenses ready for applicants and begin the outreach necessary to create more equitable access to Denver’s nearly billion-dollar cannabis industry.”
Denver's delivery and new hospitality programs are likely to be implemented by July, according to Excise and Licenses.
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