LoHi Cannabis Club had nothing to do with closure of nearby dispensary, co-owner says

On July 2, Altitude Organic Medicine shut down after a city council zoning measure doomed it -- an outcome council member Carla Madison said was regrettable but unavoidable.

Before he closed up shop, AOM co-owner Brian Cook implied that another nearby dispensary, LoHi Cannabis Club, had used political connections against his business. But LoHi's Nick Ibarra says nothing could be further from the truth.

Cook suspected LoHi in part because the business was approved in a location that he says was less than 1,000 feet from his operation -- something presumably against regulations established by Denver's city council. Moreover, LoHi's sign went up the same day the city council approved the measure that served as AOM's death sentence.

That was simply a coincidence according to Ibarra, who says he and his partners went through the same process as every other MMJ business to earn approval to open for business, with no assistance from well-connected pals.

"It was just us filling out our business application and sending it in March and waiting," he says. "We got our sales tax licenses for Colorado and Denver last year, and finally got our business license on the 25th of June." Between those dates, "it was just waiting in line and hoping everything was up to the city's standards."

Ibarra says he initially thought the distance between his location and AOM would be an issue, "but we got our map of the City of Denver -- the one where some marijuana leaves are red, which means there might be problems, and some are green, meaning they're okay. And when we got it at the end of December, it showed that our leaf was green."

The reason, in all likelihood, had to do with zoning. LoHi was in an industrial zone, where dispensaries were allowed without question, while AOM occupied part of a mixed-use residential zone. Cook and his attorneys felt confident this last designation would be fine, but it wound up be anything but -- and although a zoning overhaul removed any ambiguity for dispensaries in the future, the aforementioned council amendment ensured that AOM's owners couldn't take advantage of the change.

Not that everything was smooth sailing for LoHi. Ibarra points out that inspection-oriented questions about a security wall delayed his dispensary's grand opening for two months. That proves "there were absolutely no special favors given to us at all," he says.

As Ibarra tells it, his first hint that Cook was upset came with the June 21 publication of a piece on the impending council action. "I thought it was preposterous that he would think we were getting inside help," he says. "So we went over there and talked to Brian, and everything seemed okay."

Indeed, Ibarra was so confident that the misunderstandings were a thing of the past that he even dropped by AOM during its going-out-of-business party -- and was startled when a number of people wondered why he'd come, since he was "the enemy."

He responded by assuring everyone he encountered that he'd had nothing to do with AOM's closure. Still, he fears bad word of mouth has contributed to LoHi's relatively soft opening. That's why he's working hard to get the real story out, and his version is supported by the comments of councilwoman Madison, who made it clear in the Westword interview linked above that the amendment in no way targeted Cook's business.

"I don't want any bad feelings from Altitude Organic Medicine," Ibarra stresses. "I think dispensaries have to stick together to keep the city from shutting any of us down. It's better to stand together as a strong front than to have to deal with the city individually."

He urges patients to give LoHi Cannabis Club a chance rather than assuming that he and his partners participated in a power play -- "because we didn't have anything to do with any of this."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts