On February 25, Denver City Council agreed to remove the sunset provision from Initiative 300, which allowed the city to create a temporary social cannabis consumption business program. Initially, that pilot program was scheduled to expire in 2020, but the council's move makes it permanent.
It's still not perfect, though, and councilmembers will be considering additional changes.
As presented to voters in 2016, I-300 was designed to give special events and businesses such as restaurants, cafes, yoga studios and art galleries the opportunity to allow social pot use in confined areas. But limitations put on the pilot program — including the 2020 sunset — made it difficult to secure investors or property leases, according to would-be social consumption entrepreneurs.
Councilwoman Kendra Black, who has been leading a task force to assess I-300 regulations, has considered changes for months, but decided that removing the sunset provision was a good start. That proposal passed council 10-1, with Kevin Flynn the only "no" vote.
"I don't believe that simply repealing the sunset, which voters had approved and authors of the initiative included, is going to make any difference in the context of all the other changes that would have to be looked at before this program would take off," Flynn said before the vote. "I don't see that removing the sunset would result in any new businesses suddenly coming forward, with all the other restrictions that I believe are truly the reason that more of these licenses have not been sought by other business."
Flynn was pointing to restrictions introduced by both the state and city that resulted in just five I-300 applications being submitted since Denver began accepting them in 2017. Of those applications, one was rejected, one rescinded, two approved, and one is still under review. One of the two approved businesses, Vape and Play, recently closed and is now up for sale after opening its doors just a month ago.
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The Coffee Joint is currently Denver's only licensed social consumption business, though a handful of unlicensed clubs and tourism companies operate in contested areas of the law.
Before any businesses could apply under I-300, the state made stipulations that any licensed consumption business in Colorado is barred from allowing indoor smoking, alcohol consumption or pot sales under state law, which severely hurts their earning potential. A bill expected to be introduced in the Colorado Legislature this session may address those issues, but in the meantime, any proposed social consumption business must observe those rules...as well as the city's requirements.
Black's task-force recommendations include updating the program's location restrictions, which prohibit social use businesses or events from coming within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, drug treatment centers and city-owned parks, pools and recreation centers; as approved by voters, the ordinance only included a 1,000-foot buffer from schools.
The task force will hold public meetings on I-300 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Monday, March 4, and Monday, March 18, in Room 391 of the Denver City and County Building.