Business

Denver Excise and Licenses Director Stepping Away

Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy is stepping away from her role in 2022.
Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy is stepping away from her role in 2022. Excise and Licenses
Denver Department of Excise and Licenses Executive Director Ashley Kilroy is stepping away from her role in January, according to a joint announcement from Excise and Licenses and Mayor Michael Hancock's office.

A licensed attorney, Kilroy has worked for the Denver police, sheriff and fire departments, as well as the Denver City Attorney's Office, Denver Public Schools and the Washington County Attorney's Office. She began working for Excise and Licenses in 2014, serving as the department's director of marijuana policy during the first year of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado; she was named executive director in 2016.

Excise and Licenses Deputy Director Molly Duplechian will become interim executive director in Kilroy's absence, according to the city. Kilroy says she's taking an extended break to be with her family, with no return or retirement date set.

“When the Mayor asked me to serve as the first director of the agency overseeing marijuana regulations in Denver, I knew it was going to be a major challenge," Kilroy says in a statement. "I’m proud of what we have accomplished together and will be standing by to assist Mayor Hancock in the future after I take an overdue break from public service to spend extended time with my family.”

Denver has become home to nearly 220 dispensaries, according to Excise and Licenses, and that doesn't include the 300-plus marijuana cultivators, extractors, product manufacturers and other licensed pot businesses located in the city. From 2014 to 2020, Denver's marijuana tax revenue more than tripled, going from $21.9 million in 2014 to over $70.3 million in 2020. During her time as executive director, Kilroy also helped oversee the creation of Denver's social equity licensing program for marijuana entrepreneurs, which prioritizes business owners from communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

Kilroy's tenure saw several challenges, as well. Despite being the first city in the country to approve a licensing system for marijuana-friendly establishments, Denver has only approved two marijuana lounges under Kilroy's watch, while private, unlicensed pot clubs and tour companies continue to garner most of Denver's marijuana tourism action. The city's marijuana social equity program has also been criticized for being too little, too late, as the current saturation of marijuana businesses limits new licensing opportunities for potential entrepreneurs.

The biggest marijuana-related challenge for Excise and Licenses may have been in 2018, when one of Denver's largest dispensary chains, Sweet Leaf, was raided by state and local law enforcement for illegal marijuana sales. In response, Excise and Licenses quickly revoked all 26 of Sweet Leaf's business licenses in Denver — a move that held up under appeal and was repeated by other local governments in which Sweet Leaf operated. (Sweet Leaf eventually lost all of its dispensary, cultivation and infused-product manufacturing licenses in Colorado, and the company's three co-owners and two executives were given prison terms.)

Kilroy's work with Excise and Licenses wasn't all marijuana-related. During her time as executive director, she also oversaw local liquor licensing — a critical component of the city's brewery scene — and the creation of Denver's first regulations for short-term rental properties.

In a statement announcing Kilroy's departure, Hancock praised her work in his administration.

“Throughout her time in public service, Ashley has been a critical part of my and other administrations' efforts to foster a business environment that provides equity for all, improves public safety and streamlines regulations. And she pioneered a new frontier as we became the first city marijuana regulator in the world, and that Denver model is looked to today as the standard,” Hancock says in a statement. “She set the bar high for the Department of Excise and Licenses and in every role she’s held, and has been a critical part of my administration since I took office. Her innovative leadership and dedication, which I’ve relied on, will be greatly missed, but our city is where it is today because she answered the call to serve.”
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell