The City of Denver will hold its fourth annual Marijuana Management Symposium from October 31 through November 2, when public officials and policymakers from around the globe will gather to talk about the challenges of regulating legal cannabis. And talk about challenges: One of the conference's main partners was recently the subject of a Denver Police Department sting, resulting in cases now pending in Denver County Court.
Marijuana Management Symposium attendees will have the opportunity to visit licensed cannabis businesses around town via My 420 Tours, the same cannabis tourism company that's currently in a battle with the city over its pot-infused tour buses. On June 15, undercover DPD officers boarded My 420 Tours buses and over thirty pot tourists were subsequently cited for public consumption; several employees were charged with criminal offenses.
But the company itself was not cited, and My 420 Tours has continued operating without police interference since July. So does this symposium partnership signify that a deal between My 420 Tours and Denver is in the offing? Not according to My 420 Tours CEO Danny Schaefer.
"Long story short, we’ve played host to the symposium the last two years, and won the contract for this year literally days after the sting. So the same regulators who are trying to put us out of business are using our services, buses and licensed partners to show off our mature regulated market to regulators from across the country," he says. "For us, it’s all about education, and we’re honored to show off the leaders in the industry, as we believe it helps further the industry on a national and international level."
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Pot-infused tourism companies such as My 420 Tours, the Loopr Mobile Cannabis Lounge and Colorado Cannabis Tours sprang up after retail cannabis sales began in 2014, operating under the protection of a Colorado law allowing cannabis use in the back of a private, registered limousine or bus. Although not licensed cannabis companies, these businesses had been operating relatively free of law enforcement prosecution since 2014, and were viewed as one of the few ways for cannabis users to socially consume marijuana legally outside of a private home or club.
Still, undercover DPD police officers boarded My 420 Tours buses in June, with uniformed officers eventually pulling the buses over and citing 31 customers for public consumption, three employees for violating the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and a bus driver for a DUI, as first reported by Denverite.
The majority of the customers were tourists from out of state, Schaefer says, adding that the company paid their legal fees and any travel expenses stemming from the citations; at least 26 of them have accepted a deal to plead guilty to lesser charges of smoking in public. All four of Schaefer's employees plan to take their cases to court, however.
Schaefer's not happy with the DPD or the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. He's particularly peeved that a DPD commander told the Denver Channel that the enforcement action was inspired by a live CNN report on a My 420 Tours bus last New Year's Eve.
Both the DPD and Excise and Licenses officials maintain that the My 420 Tours buses were operating publicly on June 15, and have said that future enforcement could occur if pot tourism companies operate "unlawfully."
The symposium tour partnership was announced by My 420 Tours on July 25, just over a month after the DPD sting. "That sure is going to make it hard for the city attorney to paint us out as a nuisance and/or risk to public health, when [the city] has been our clients the last three years for their regulator conference," Schaefer says.
None of the My 420 Tours rides offered to symposium attendees will allow cannabis consumption, according to both the company and the Department of Excise and Licenses. "This is not a consumption tour. It is a marijuana industry educational tour, with no marijuana consumption of any kind permitted. We believe it is important for marijuana regulators across the U.S. to see the operations of several marijuana businesses in Denver," explains Excise and Licenses communications director Eric Escudero.
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The DPD and the City Attorney's Office won't comment on the pending My 420 Tours cases, nor will Escudero. "I can’t ever comment on pending litigation," he says. But he can talk about the upcoming symposium, set for the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Downtown Convention Center at the end of this month.
"My 420 did the tours last year as well for our symposium," Escudero says, "and provided a helpful tour for government regulators coming to Denver to learn how Denver and other communities successfully regulate marijuana."
Even if the company offering the tours feels it's been taken for a ride.
Correction: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on October 25 to correct an erroneous statement that no other pot tourism companies had faced similar stings from the Denver Police Department. In June, riders and employees on a Colorado Cannabis Tours bus were cited in a similar manner to My 420 Tours buses.