City Forces Native Roots Dispensary to Close on 16th Street Mall

Native Roots has shut down its downtown Denver dispensary for a few months while the store moves several stories higher in the same building. The dispensary chain had been operating its flagship store in the basement and ground levels of a building on the 16th Street Mall since 2015 under an agreement with the City of Denver, but that pact has since turned sour.

Colorado's largest dispensary chain has been fighting the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses since early this year in an effort to keep its dispensary open at the ground level. The battle has included city hearings and injunction attempts in Denver District Court — but Native Roots hasn't been winning.

The dispute stems from the dispensary's exact location at 910 16th Street, in a multi-story building that also encompasses an adjacent space at 1555 Champa Street. Before the closure, Native Roots was operating at the Champa Street address under a modification-of-premises agreement with Excise and Licenses, which allowed Native Roots to "include the store front at 1555 Champa to the originally licensed premises at 910 16th Street, Suite 805," according to department documents.

Native Roots communications director Kim Casey says the agreement had been revisited and approved each year with little difficulty until this year. It had originally been issued by then-Excises and Licenses director Stacie Loucks, who was replaced by Ashley Kilroy in late 2016. According to Casey, that's when the understanding started to change.

"There was no opposition for us to make changes to the space. Everything was okay. Everything was reviewed repeatedly and grandfathered since 2015," Casey remembers. "Now, under a new director, they're reversing multiple previous rulings all of a sudden."

Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy.
Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy.
Excise and Licenses

However, the city says it shut the main-floor store for different reasons, citing "a number of violations" during a 2017 inspection. According to Excise and Licenses, Native Roots had completely moved to 1555 Champa by then, and didn't have any part of the store in the basement of 910 16th Street, a requirement in the original agreement. The 1555 Champa address is just short of the required 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries and daycares, the city noted.

"The full accurate story here is that upon inspection, this licensee was found to have not acted in accordance with their approved license. They have a licensed controlled premise. Inspection demonstrated they did not comply with rules and regulations for that controlled premise," Excise and Licenses communication director Eric Escudero says in an email. "They had an opportunity to address this issue at their show-cause hearing and failed to do so, as shown in the hearing officer’s recommended decision and Ashley Kilroy’s final decision."

But Casey points out that the daycare center had "been there the entire time, just like we've been there the entire time," and that the reason Loucks issued a modification-of-premises license instead of allowing the store a transfer of location was for that very reason. "Earlier in the year, we had understood they were reviewing the license there under this experience. They had done it so many times before, and we'd come back without a problem," she says.

Native Roots appealed Kilroy's initial attempt to shut down the store at 1555 Champa a few months ago, taking its case to a city hearing officer this spring. But the hearing officer sided against the dispensary, recommending that Kilroy proceed with denying the store's license, which she did on July 5. The company then requested an injunction preventing the city from closing the dispensary as it prepared an appeal of Kilroy's decision, but Denver District Court denied that injunction request on August 31, giving Native Roots until September 3 to close its doors.

Casey says the dispensary will move upstairs to the eighth floor of 910 16th Street, where its original license was issued, over the next few months, while the company decides whether to go forward with the appeal of the city's decision; the basement location will become a CBD store in the meantime.

"A lot of the times, when people see a dispensary closing, they assume it did something wrong or it was a health or safety issue, but this wasn't the case," Casey explains. "We recognize this new director and these about-face moves could certainly have implications on the industry as a larger entity, but Native Roots is focused on moving forward to best serve our patients and customers in the area."

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