Medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver: 256 and counting

Early this year, reports that the city had issued more than 390 sales tax licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries led many to proclaim Denver "Cannabis Capital USA."

But once city council passed new dispensary regulations on January 11 requiring all current dispensary owners to apply for a new dispensary license before March 1 that required, among other things, criminal background checks and more than $5,000 in city fees, the city's dispensary glut receded somewhat.

Once the dust settled on March 1, a more moderate but still impressive 235 dispensaries had applied for the new license. In the weeks since, 21 additional dispensaries have filed an application, reports Denver Community Planning and Development Communications Director Sue Cobb -- suggesting that the city's dispensary deluge has dwindled to a trickle.

Now the ball's in the city's court, since it has to go through all 256 total applications and figure out which should be granted a dispensary license -- and which don't make the cut and have to be given the official boot.

As of last Friday, according to Cobb, 65 dispensary applications, roughly a quarter of the total, had been cleared for official inspections by the Denver Fire Department, Development Services and Environmental Health, as well as a final walk-through by Excise and Licenses. All these applicants passed the required criminal background checks and, per the new regulation's rules, opened their facilities before December 16, 2009. For that reason, they were not affected by requirements that they be 1,000 feet from schools, day-care centers or other dispensaries. In other words, no one has to go out to these operations with a tape measure and mark off the distance to the nearest nursery.

And so far, very few dispensaries have failed to make the cut. No applicants have been denied because of failed background checks, although ten were axed because they were located in residential zone districts, which the new regulations expressly forbid.

Still, there are apparently 181 applications that have yet to make it through the first round -- meaning all of those applicants are awaiting their gauntlet of inspections. As a result, it will likely be at least several weeks before any operation will be able to proudly display an official Denver dispensary license on its wall.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner