Medical marijuana: Denver has yet to begin processing MMC applications

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Medical marijuana center applications with the city of Denver are sitting in storage -- and in limbo.

Furthermore, the director of the office charged with processing them isn't sure when they'll even get to the first one.

Currently, the roughly 200 applications filed with the city of Denver are sitting in banker's boxes at a state office building on the 400 block of Sherman Street. Since final approval from the state hinges on local approval, that means Denver dispensaries are in the dark as to when they could get licenses.

Tom Downey, director of the office of Excise and Licenses, admits that progress has moved at a snail's pace in the month or so he has been in office. Downey takes full blame for the slowdown, noting that recent city elections meant a lot of new people in city positions. "I'm new and it's only been five weeks since I've been sworn in. It's my fault that we aren't on top of things. It has taken me some time to get ramped up."

Aside from the usual confusion that comes with a change of positions, he says an increased workload and decreasing staff due to budget concerns has left his office scrambling to keep up with marijuana businesses, as well as the 179 other categories of licenses they handle. He said turnaround time has been an issue at the office in the past, and he's been charged by Mayor Michael Hancock and his administration with changing that.

One reason for the lack of progress pertaining to medical marijuana, he says, is that laws are still changing on the city level. He pointed to a bill read for the first time on Monday night, which would adjust the required fees for medical marijuana dispensaries. That would align them with a state law that designates different licenses depending if the application is for a dispensary, a grow operation or an infused product kitchen.

And when personnel finally get to the boxes, there are other issues that Downey is expecting to burden the process. He says there are a "huge percentage" of centers that aren't going to meet current zoning laws or be able to be grandfathered in under older laws. With that possibility in mind, his office plans to find out if centers are compliant before taking any fees from them. "That is not fair to take money from folks knowing that there's a really good chance they aren't going to make it through the initial screening," he notes.

But all of these things take time and patience, and Downey says he realizes people in the MMJ industry are understandably short of both these days. For this reason, he and several staffers plan to look at the boxes in the next few weeks to develop a strategy for processing them all. However, he couldn't give a time line as to when this task might be completed.

"The folks that want to move things forward, they have a right to be frustrated," he says. "We acknowledge they are frustrated, but we are working really hard."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Med. Marijuana Enforcement Division buried, extends deadlines for MMJ employee licensing."

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