Marijuana business ban in Denver? Councilman doubts it will pass

The Denver City Council has agreed to consider a ban on recreational marijuana businesses in April, joining dozens of Colorado cities and counties mulling similar proposals. In addition, it's Amendment 64 Special Issues Committee will put proposed Denver regulations on hold until spring, so it can collect more input. But at Monday's meeting, it got plenty from groups including the Denver Police Department, the Office of Excise and Licenses and marijuana-related business owners.

Denver police chief Robert White told committee members that he believes medical marijuana has increased crime. Residential grows pose the biggest problem, with marijuana-related burglaries at the top of that list. In 2009, before the industry boomed to what it is today, there were ten marijuana-related burglaries in Denver, he said; in 2012, there were 102. According to the DPD, more than half of those burglaries occurred at the private residences of home growers. Police also contend that one out of every 22 grow operations catches fire, with the majority of those fires occurring in residential grows.

Michael Elliott, who represents the Medical Marijuana Industry Group -- a lobbying outfit that has consistently refused to divulge the size of its membership and which dispensaries it actually represents -- also came out swinging at home growers. Elliott told the committee that regulations on MMJ businesses have helped limit trouble, but home grows (and illegal sales from them) cause a problem that could increase if a recreational retail industry isn't allowed by the city.

Expanding on his comments before the committee, Elliot tells us that he isn't against state-legal home growers specifically. Rther, he says, he was pointing out that a regulated recreational sales industry would put a dent in illegal home sales that he believes will still happen regardless of what Amendment 64 allows. "The main point of what I was saying is that we can centralize or decentralize how it's sold," he explains.

With so many issues on the table, the council committee decided to wait until April to make a decision about whether to allow more marijuana-related businesses -- including cannabis-friendly smoke/vape lounges -- in the city. So far, though, council members seem to favor allowing some new businesses. And with about two-thirds of Denver voters approving Amendment 64 in November, they say they'd have a hard time banning such businesses outright.

Replying Monday to a Facebook post from attorney Warren Edson, Councilman Albus Brooks sounded hopeful that a compromise could be reached. "I don't see us opting out of commercial," he wrote. "The Nation is watching how we handle this, and also the 66 percent of Denver voters. We will deliver smart regulations that protect neighborhoods yet allow a new industry to succeed."

If a ban on new businesses is enacted, the city would be passing on substantial tax revenue. According to Denver officials, the city collected about $4.6 million in sales tax from medical marijuana last year, an increase of more than $2.8 million over 2010 figures.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Obama administration has done poor job of talking about drug policy, czar says."

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