Medical marijuana edible makers and Denver officials struggle over legal catch-22

Can you have your pot cake and sell it, too?

That's the dilemma facing edible makers and manufacturers of other marijuana-infused goods, since according to new state law they have to apply for an "infused product manufacturer" license by July 1 in order to continue operating -- but in most locations around the state, such licenses don't yet exist.

"All these companies are suddenly facing a catch-22," admits Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt. And that catch-22 nearly forced almost all Denver edible makers out of business.

On Friday, June 18, the City Attorney's Office determined that because Denver didn't have an infused product manufacturer license, the only operations that could legally make edibles and other such products were the dispensaries themselves.

"You would have to grow, cook and sell all in the same building," says Jessica LeRoux, aka the Cheesecake Lady, who's in the process of opening a commercial kitchen in Denver for her edible company, Twirling Hippy Confections. "There's hardly anywhere in the city that is zoned so you can do that."

It was enough for many Denver marijuana-infused manufacturing businesses to get together last week and form an informal lobbying group to fight the new rule. They didn't have to fight too hard: The next day, city officials announced the City Attorney's Office was backing off the new policy and council members had crafted a more acceptable solution.

"The attorneys wanted to be on the safe side," says Nevitt. "It was perfectly reasonable counsel, but as policy makers, city council is expressing a different priority. This is an industry that is working well in Denver so far, and we don't want to put it in jeopardy."

That's why Nevitt and his colleagues filed a proposed ordinance on June 24 stipulating that as long as infused product manufacturers apply for any and all city permits currently applicable to their businesses, such as a food handler's license, by July 1, the city will consider them having met new state requirements. The same goes for Denver marijuana grow facilities, which also require licensing that doesn't yet exist. As long as such operations apply for permits relating to a horticultural operation by July 1, under the proposed regulations they'll have safe harbor.

While City Council won't get a chance to vote the ordinance into law until at least July 12, Nevitt says state officials have indicated that since the city is moving forward with a workable solution, all businesses that apply for applicable permits by July 1 shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Of course, that just means Denver businesses are in the clear. What about their colleagues in other municipalities?

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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

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