Denver Council Committee Moves Pot Delivery, Hospitality Bills Forward

Walk-up windows such as this one at Higher Grade could remain.
Walk-up windows such as this one at Higher Grade could remain.
Thomas Mitchell
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Proposals that would opt the city into marijuana delivery and hospitality were moved forward by a Denver City Council committee on March 16, with first readings likely to take place before the end of the month.

If approved by the full council next month, the proposed bills could add marijuana delivery, permanent to-go windows at dispensaries, an expanded social pot-consumption program and a social equity licensing initiative to Denver's marijuana industry, as well as make numerous other changes in city rules. However, the three proposals, crafted by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, all include areas of concern for members of both Denver City Council and the city's marijuana community, any of whom could push for changes.

Here's a breakdown of the current proposals:

Marijuana delivery in Denver looks to be more of a matter of when, not if; delivery drivers have already hit the road in Aurora, and nearby communities such as Thornton and Longmont are now considering approving the service. Denver's proposal to allow delivery within city limits follows most of the rules set forth by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, with delivery cut off at the local dispensary closing time of 10 p.m. Orders could only be delivered at residential addresses, and would be limited to 1 ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate, or edibles containing 800 milligrams of THC. Those ordering the marijuana will have to show their ID to the delivery driver.

Although there is still some discussion on the nuances of ID verification and hours of operation, the issue of delivery itself was the least controversial of the topics considered at hearings with councilmembers and reps from Excise and Licenses; most of the conversation has centered on who will receive the business licenses for delivery. As currently proposed, delivery permits — and all other marijuana business licenses besides those for research facilities — are reserved for social-equity applicants until 2027.

Denver already has a cannabis hospitality program, though few have been partaking. Only one business currently operates under Denver's social pot consumption licensing program; others that have tried to break into the field complain about the city's location restrictions and a lack of profitable business models allowed by the state. But after Colorado passed a law in 2019 creating marijuana hospitality licenses for restaurants, art and yoga studios, arcades, mobile lounges and other businesses, that latter excuse no longer applied. The overhaul of the city's hospitality program would allow more businesses to apply, and would provide for indoor smoking and even micro-sales and mobile lounges — but the 1,000-foot buffer between a social use business and any daycare center, drug treatment center and city-owned park, pool or recreation center currently remains in place.

Marijuana industry representatives and advocates have argued against the buffer, suggesting it be changed to 500 feet or that the requirements for daycare centers be removed altogether. Excise and Licenses (and, more important, Mayor Micheal Hancock) are in favor of the restrictions, however, so that battle is likely to continue to play out during the full council hearings.

Social equity
A stipulation that all new marijuana business licenses in Denver be reserved until 2027 for owners who qualify for a new social equity designation remains in play.

The social equity definition, which was adopted by the Colorado Legislature at the end of the 2020 session, stipulates that a qualified social equity 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.

Drive-thru windows and curbside service
Created as a response to COVID-19 guidelines issued by Governor Jared Polis's executive orders at the start of the pandemic, takeout marijuana sales — through curbside transactions, as well as drive-thru and walk-up windows — are currently allowed in Denver. What started as temporary rules were permanently added to the state marijuana code on January 1 by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, but local jurisdictions must opt into the MED's rules in order to continue takeout pot services after the pandemic. Although initially banned in Excise and License's proposal, the council requested to-go sales be added to the language of the measures that will be considered by the full council.

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