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Denver Pushing for 120-Day Extension of New Marijuana License Moratorium

Denver's quick response to the legalization of recreational marijuana — the adoption of the 2013 Denver Retail Marijuana Code, and the creation of systems to enforce that code — has won plaudits from around the country and attracted hundreds of government officials to a city-sponsored two-day Marijuana Management Symposium earlier this month. But Denver's work is far from done, and yesterday Denver City Council's Business Development Committee met to consider updates to the marijuana regulatory structure.

Updates, and an extension of this rule adopted before legal sales started:

In order to be eligible for a Retail Marijuana License, an applicant must have had or purchased a medical marijuana business that had been operating in good standing as of or before Oct. 1, 2013. An applicant must possess a valid City and State medical marijuana business license at the time of application.

First things first: Although the transition period had been set to expire on January 1, 2016 — exactly two years after the first legal recreational pot was sold in the city — city officials believe that Denver needs more than a month to review and modify the rules. And so yesterday committee members unanimously agreed to recommend that council approve a 120-day extension of the rules, which would stretch the transition phase for retail marijuana until May 1, 2016, in the process also placing a moratorium on new medical marijuana applications until May 1. During those four months, discussion would continue on whether a longer moratorium was needed, or there should be other updates to the code to accommodate Denver's burgeoning marijuana industry.
Included in the discussion at yesterday morning's meeting were stats outlining Denver's “abundance of marijuana.”

For starters, there are now more than 1,000 marijuana licenses operating out of 440-plus unique marijuana business locations, the city reports.

Of these, over 210 are stores/centers that sell marijuana.

There are also over 260 grows, or “cultivation facilities.”

There are more than 70 manufacturers of infused products, such as food, lotions, etc., as well as eight testing facilities.

“Denver has approximately 40 percent of all the MJ licenses in Colorado,” the city reports, “and 12 percent of the population.”

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And here's one more number: two. That's how many years the city is recommending that the current retail transition phase and the moratorium on new medical marijuana applications ultimately be extended, until January 1, 2018. "We believe that this proposal is in the best interests of all stakeholders as we remain true to creating a responsible industry that is regulated in a manner to protect health, safety and quality of life of our citizens," the bill, proposed by Denver Excise and Licenses and the Office of Marijuana Policy, states.

Despite the officials' claim that putting a hold on new businesses would enhance market longevity, many industry stakeholders and business owners feel the city would be creating an unfair advantage for those who got their licenses early if the moratorium is extended until 2018.

The proposal for the 120-day extension now moves to next week's mayor-council meeting, then to Denver City Council in early December. But even if it's approved, it only postpones the inevitable discussion of the plan for a much longer moratorium that could run an additional twenty months. 

“There will be be a lot of input,” predicts city spokesman Dan Rowland. And he's not blowing smoke.

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