Marijuana: Denver finally treating marijuana like alcohol -- on its licensing website, at least

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After the passage of Amendment 64, the City of Denver moved slower than a procrastinating pothead in coming up with a system for handling the recreational marijuana retail stores that could be opening on January 1, 2014 -- but it's really picked up the pace lately. On December 9, it finally unveiled a website devoted to pot, which read like it had been devised by Carrie Nation. Last Friday, Mayor Michael Hancock announced that he'd named Ashley Kilroy, who's been the interim manager of safety, to become the executive director of marijuana policy for the city. And on Monday, after the state released its list of retail marijuana business licenses, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses revealed that it's finally going to treat marijuana as it does alcohol -- at least when it comes to public access to information.

Excise and Licenses has a very useful website that lists all the businesses in Denver that have applied for liquor licenses, the dates of their hearings, and the status of their application. And now it looks like the city will be doing that for marijuana business licenses, too:

Here's the release sent out late Monday, December 23 from the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses:

Today, the State of Colorado Department of Revenue began to issue retail marijuana business licenses. Simultaneously, the Department of Excise and License announced that, as of today, 42 retail marijuana businesses have completed the city's thorough licensing process and could receive their city license with proof of state license to begin operating on Jan. 1, 2014. This number includes stores, grow facilities, and infused product manufacturing and is expected to grow as more applicants are successful in completing their licensing requirements.

Denver is among the more than 25 municipalities that opted to allow medical marijuana businesses to begin transitioning into retail marijuana businesses on Jan. 1, 2014. In Denver, a retail marijuana business is able to open only after receiving both a state and local license.

All state licenses are conditional upon local licensing authority approval if a municipality, such as Denver, has instituted a local licensing system. The State of Colorado licensing process includes the submission of required documentation, background check, financial checks and licensing fee. Per state statute, the Department of Revenue must take final action on a license application within 90 days of submission.

Denver has a thorough local licensing system for retail marijuana stores, grow facilities, infused product manufacturing and testing labs that was created through legislation passed by Denver City Council on Sept. 16, 2013. The licensing process allows for community input through a public hearing process for stores and is focused on physical inspections, which require considerable field work. The timeframe for Denver's process is open-ended to allow businesses the time necessary to complete, for example, any construction requirements.

Once the licensing process was created, city departments immediately developed a thoughtful retail marijuana business application process to meet the requirements set out in ordinance. The city chose to quickly begin accepting applications on Oct. 1, 2013 - concurrent with the State of Colorado.

Denver Retail Marijuana Applications: Only existing medical marijuana centers, manufacturers and cultivators "in good standing" may apply for a retail license before Jan. 1, 2016 in Denver. There are three options for a medical marijuana business to be licensed as a retail marijuana business:

· Full conversion to retail marijuana sales to those 21 and older.

· Retail and medical marijuana sales to those 21 and older only. This is called "co-terminous."

· Medical sales to those 18 and older on one side of the store and retail sales to those 21 and older on the other side. This is called "co-location."

As of Dec. 23, 2013, 317 retail marijuana business applications have been received by the City and County of Denver from 149 business entities:

· Retail Store - 123

· Retail Grow Facility - 165

· Retail Infused Product Manufacturing - 26

· Retail Testing Lab - 3

All retail marijuana store licenses issued will be publicly listed HERE beginning on Dec. 27 at 5 p.m.

Denver Retail Marijuana Licensing System All four license business types - stores, grow facilities, infused product manufacturing and testing labs - must complete five thorough inspections. Separate departments are collectively tasked with ensuring that each business meets the requirements of each inspection, which are all conducted onsite at the establishment. The required inspections and examples of their scope are:

· Building Code - accessibility, restrooms and ingress/egress

· Neighborhood Inspection Services - signage

· Fire Code - secured doors and number exits

· Environmental Health - proper plumbing and source of food products

· Excise and License - security plans and general application compliance

To date, 152 retail marijuana business applicants have received an inspection card. It is the responsibility of the business to set appointments and move through the inspection process. Upon completion of the inspection process, Excise and Licenses conducts a final review of the file to ensure the applicant has completed both state and local requirements.

Excise and Licenses then alerts the applicant of their completed city application. The business applicant must present proof of a state license before a city license can be administered. All final retail marijuana store licenses will be publicly listed HERE.

Per ordinance, along with the five inspections, retail marijuana store applicants have a mandatory public hearing to ensure community input:

· Applicants must post public notification of the hearing at least 20 days prior to the scheduled hearing date.

· The city notifies the appropriate City Council Representative and Registered Neighborhood Organizations prior to the hearing.

· Notification will also be posted on the Excise and Licenses website and in the newspaper.

· Neighborhood objections have the potential to affect the licensing process.

To date, 36 stores have been approved through the hearing process.

Other requirements within the Denver licensing system:

· Be operating "in good standing."

· Pay a $250 application fee for stores, grows and infused product manufacturing or pay a $2,500 fee for testing facilities. Pay $5,000 for a license fee and secure a $20,000 tax bond.

The Excise and Licenses page that is going to list stores that have received their retail licenses is currently blank -- but you can see the layout here. If it's filled out quickly and accurately tomorrow, it's going to be a very useful resource....assuming the city picks up the pace on permitting, so that more than a handful of dispensaries can open on January 1.

For more on what's in store for Colorado on January 1, read "Gone to Pot," my column for this week's Westword that went to press on December 23, just as the Excise and Licenses release arrived.

Have a tip? Send it to patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

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