Marijuana Study: NIMBY Rules Push Many Denver Dispensaries Into Low-Income Areas

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Earlier this year, a University of Colorado Denver study showed that medical marijuana stores had little impact on areas -- no more so than coffee shops, the researchers found. But there's apparently a lingering perception among the more affluent Not In My Backyard crowd that dispensaries don't make good neighbors, whether it's true or not.

That's among the takeaways of a new CU Denver study, which determined that land-use regulations tend to push dispensaries into low-income neighborhoods. Get details and read the document below.

See also: Medical marijuana stores impact neighborhoods in Denver no more than coffee shops, study says

"Planning for Marijuana: The Cannabis Conundrum" is the work of Jeremy Németh and Eric Ross; the former is a CU Denver prof who directs the Master of Urban Design program at the school, while the latter lectures for the Department of Planning and Design.

In their intro to the piece, published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Németh and Ross identify two central questions: "1) How do local jurisdictions regulate how and where MMDs operate, and 2) how equitably do common marijuana land use models distribute these facilities, which we define as each tract receiving its fair share of suitable land based on its total land area?"

The answers emerge from a case study of Denver that's applied to three other communities: Los Angeles, Phoenix and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The results suggest that "four popular regulatory models tend to concentrate suitable land in severely socioeconomically disadvantaged tracts...and areas with high proportions of African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American...residents."

As such, they conclude that "most authorities control where MMDs locate as they do other locally unwanted land uses...such as sex-oriented businesses, halfway houses and liquor stores."

Not that Denver's the most restrictive of the communities studied. The following graphic measuring zoning and proximity restrictions show that the Mile High City ranked as either the first or second-most permissive of the four cities analyzed:

Nonetheless, the area available to cannabis entrepreneurs remains limited here due to rules that include 1,000 foot distances between schools and the like. This situation is depicted graphically in the following map: Number-wise, as noted by the Denver Business Journal, the study determined that around 46 percent of land in lower-income neighborhoods can be used by cannabis businesses, as opposed to approximately 29 percent in more affluent places.

The authors acknowledge that plenty of dispensaries locate in areas that can't be described as suffering from severe socioeconomic issues, in part because the majority of Denver's developable land lays outside distressed zones. But they see plenty of evidence of NIMBy-ism as it applies to marijuana operations.

A key observation: "Given that most people prefer not to live near these facilities, planners must recognize the potential equity implications of these land use policies."

Here's the complete report.

Planning for Marijuana: The Cannabis Conundrum.pdf

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.