Old Denver Jail Used to Store Overflow of Seized Marijuana

Inside Denver County Jail.
Inside Denver County Jail. denvergov.org
Thomas Wolf isn't rated as one of the top-tier candidates in the wide-open race for Denver mayor, but one of his suggestions made us sit up and take notice: An old city jail that now stores confiscated marijuana could be used to shelter humans instead.

Wolf has argued on behalf of closing homeless encampments and providing immediate, temporary shelter — not affordable or permanent housing — for individuals without homes. That's a departure from the position of many competitors, and his stance has made some homeless advocates view him as "big, bad Wolf," admits the candidate.

But during the Fair Elections Fund February 9 debate and again at the February 20 forum on homelessness, Wolf cited the jail as an example of misused city resources. Why house marijuana when you could shelter people? He points to the old downtown jail, currently being used by the Denver Police Department to store confiscated marijuana, as a waste of a city facility.

"When we have people freezing on the corner in 20-degree weather," Wolf says, "I just really can't see in a city where we have surplus housing, why we aren't using it. It's a specific example of surplus real estate we own as a community that should be brought to bear on this problem."

A building full of marijuana was news to us, and Westword contacted the DPD, the Denver Sheriff Department and the Denver Department of Public Safety for more details.

Its answers were brief, but the DPD did confirm that "part of an old jail" was being used for "overflow storage, that includes marijuana," but did not respond to a follow-up question.

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Denver mayoral candidate Thomas Wolf has an issue with how Denver police are utilizing an old jail.
Public Safety provided more information, noting that the old jail is the former Pre-Arraignment Detention Facility next to DPD headquarters off West 13th Avenue. That jail is slated to become a new District 6 police station "in the coming years."

After a bump immediately following recreational marijuana legalization, black-market marijuana crime has become a relatively minor problem for the DPD, with the number of marijuana-related complaints handled by the DPD's Marijuana Unit dropping from 99 in 2020 to 37 in 2022. Given that decrease, the DPD recently transformed the Marijuana Unit of the Vice and Narcotics Section into the Fentanyl Investigations Team.

According to the City of Denver's most recent annual marijuana crime and legalization report, total marijuana offenses accounted for less than 1 percent of overall reported offenses in Denver in 2021, with seventeen reported cultivation crimes and forty reported distribution crimes.

With marijuana crime dropping in Denver, Wolf wonders why the police don't simply get rid of the seized pot and turn the old PADF into a shelter for the time being.

"I would assume you could know what's going to happen to the marijuana next. It gets destroyed. It's not going back into a shop, right? Measure it, take a picture of it, log it and destroy it," he suggests.

But turning the building into a shelter wouldn't be that easy, according to both the DPD and Public Safety, since it's used to store evidence other than confiscated marijuana.

If Wolf scores an upset and becomes mayor, he promises an audit of all city-owned real estate, including the old jail — but don't expect empty buildings to become permanent homes for the currently unhoused.

"I don't think you want to do anything to enable that lifestyle other than keeping them sheltered," Wolf says.

There are a number of mayoral forums from various organizations to go, but the next Denver mayoral debate organized by the Fair Elections Fund is Thursday, March 2; Wolf will be one of a dozen candidates participating.
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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

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