Marijuana

Marijuana: Unanswered questions in final Denver retail pot rules

For months, we've been following Denver City Council's efforts to write and pass rules for the retail marijuana industry.

This task was finally accomplished at Monday evening's council meeting (see what we believe to be the final document below), and a pot-biz spokesman is pleased by the results. But attorney Warren Edson, who's been acting as our guide through this process, says some major questions remain unanswered.

The major elements of the ordinance were essentially unaltered at the council's Monday get-together. The application process starts October 1, just twelve days from now, with existing medical marijuana businesses having the field to themselves until January 2016 -- although they will have to take part in public meetings before winning city approval. Moreover, retail and medical centers can share the same space without any physical separation between them.

The results thrilled Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, who released the following statement:
We believe that the Denver ordinance treats the industry fairly, promotes public safety, and respects the wishes of the voters.

We thank the city council members for their dedication and thoughtful consideration of all the issues.

As a new industry, we recognize and accept the responsibility to ensure responsible use by adults and to keep this product away from minors.

We look forward to continuing to work with the city to meet those shared goals.

Edson understands why Elliott was pleased: "His clients are all currently in the industry, and the city council approved a phase-in period until the beginning of 2016. That greatly increased the value of his members' licenses and businesses and gave them a virtual monopoly until that date."

Still, there were a couple of last-minute alterations, with the most intriguing of them dealing with the 1,000-foot distance required between marijuana centers, as well as from a shop and child-care facilities, alcohol and drug treatment operations and schools. Previously, this span was calculated in Denver by pedestrian access -- meaning 1,000 feet needed to walk from one spot to another. But councilman Paul Lopez pushed through a tweak that will now measure the 1,000 feet in a straight line, i.e. as the crow flies; we've got that document on the next page as well. Why?

"He's said that the neighborhood he represents is less wealthy than other neighborhoods; they can't get as many crosswalks and stoplights," Edson notes. "So the distances people would have to walk are supposedly longer than they'd be in a place like District 9 in Stapleton, where they have more crosswalks."

Does that mean some centers that are legal now have suddenly become illegal? Edson doesn't think so. "There's a grandfather clause for those in an existing MMJ facility for child-care establishments and treatment centers. And because the federal government uses the crow-flies measure, all the centers should already be 1,000 feet from schools" -- or else, presumably, the feds would have ordered them shuttered via U.S. Attorney closure letters sent out during 2012.

However, Edson continues, "it's going to reduce the number of places centers can be built in the city, because it's going to increase the number of places that are prohibited."

In addition, the council said centers that haven't applied for a license with the city in addition to the state by October 1 "are out," Edson says. He's not sure how many current businesses may be effected by this edict, but we've heard numbers as high as a few dozen.

Nonetheless, unanswered questions remain.

Continue for more about Denver's retail marijuana rules, including a photo and document.
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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

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