Medical marijuana responsible for Denver ending regular inspections of tattoo parlors?

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Even though body artists specialize in the sort of inking and piercing that can lead to serious infections if not done properly, Denver no longer annually inspects tattoo parlors.

Why not? One tattoo artist says personnel were reassigned to inspect medical marijuana dispensaries -- but a city spokeswoman insists that resource allocation, not weed, spurred the change.

The tattoo artist, speaking anonymously, says his shop is a model of hygiene, going above and beyond standard industry practices to make sure clients have a safe and satisfying experience, and he believes the majority of similar businesses are being run right. However, he's visited a few other tattoo operations in Denver that he considers to be dirty and poorly maintained -- health problems waiting to happen. As such, he's troubled by the lack of inspections, which ended in early 2010.

The previous December, the artist recalls the shop's inspector explaining that the shift had been necessitated by the growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Not so, says Meghan Hughes, communications director for Denver's Department of Environmental Health. "The decision to cut back on those inspections was actually made before medical marijuana really became a big part of this," she says. "Basically all we do with medical marijuana has to do with infused products -- medical marijuana that's food-related. And that's not something we would be bringing on new inspectors for, or taking inspectors off something else."

The real rationale, she continues, had to do with "balancing resources. Back in 2010, we went through and evaluated our inspection programs for budget reasons, to look at higher risk versus lower risk. In all, there are only thirty to forty tattoo parlors in Denver, and there are something like 4,000 restaurants. And so, after evaluating public health risks, we stopped doing regular inspections of tattoo parlors and started doing complaint-based ones.

"When we did annual inspections, we looked at health-and-sanitation-oriented issues -- whether they had soap and paper towels at the hand sink, whether they were properly disposing of materials, whether the artists were using gloves, checking to make sure they were licensed and that after-care procedures were in place. And now, when we do initial licensing inspections, part of our policy is to evaluate the facilities to make sure they're at low risk, to help them get off on the right foot."

This approach has been validated by data to date, she believes. "We used to average somewhere around ten-to-twelve complaints a year" when annual inspections were still in place. "And since we've stopped, we've had probably about five complaints."

Nonetheless, the tattoo artist still argues in favor of regular inspections. In his words, "Blood-borne pathogen regulation should never be made a reaction. It should always be proactive."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Brandon Sigala tattoo fundraiser remembers beloved skateboarder, murder victim."

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