Kayvan Khalatbari has his hands in many projects. His restaurant chain, Sexy Pizza, now has three locations in Denver, and he co-owns Denver Relief, one of the oldest pot stores in the city. Add in Sexpot Comedy (his live-comedy promotion gig), multiple charity efforts and a national cannabis consulting firm and Khalatbari, 31, has one colorful LinkedIn account. And if he wins an at-large seat on Denver's city council this May, his list of job titles will get even longer.
Originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, Khalatbari has been advocating for marijuana reform in Colorado since 2005. His outgoing approach (he once donned a chicken suit and chased around then-mayor John Hickenlooper with a sign that read, "What's so scary about marijuana?") and outreach efforts have made him a recognizable name in the cannabis community. But Khalatbari wants to show people that he's ready to take on other issues. Describing himself as "brutally honest and someone who gets shit done," Khalatbari talked with Westword about his political plans and inspiration.
Westword: Considering all of the responsibilities that come with running multiple businesses and a charity, what made you decide to run for city council at this time in your life?
Kayvan Khalatbari: I was going to do a mayoral run, not really as a joke, but as a way to spark some conversation on cannabis issues -- one of them being that Denver dispensaries have to close at 7 p.m., whereas all the municipalities around Denver allow shops to be open until 10 p.m. We're talking 250 dispensaries in Denver at three hours each; that's 750 hours a day, with ten or fifteen people working for them at any given time. That's a lot of economic development we're losing out on.
Outside of cannabis is the hemp industry. This is something that can be ten, twenty, even a hundred times larger than the (market for) medical or social use of cannabis. We can create local economies, thousands of local jobs, and millions of dollars in revenue if we just built the processing facilities to turn hemp crops into dietary supplements, building materials, fuels, linens and so on. Denver is known as a cannabis epicenter and it'd be foolish to miss out on that economic opportunity.
There's also a police issue. I'd like to see a camera on every cop. Not because I don't trust the police, but because there are a lot of lawsuits and court time being wasted. There are millions of dollars being spent over these, basically paid for by the taxpayers. It's not about distrust of cops, but more about always having the truth.
Do you feel that cannabis is one of the main city issues going forward with this election?
It's one of my three main issues, in general. But something I also feel strongly about are kids' services and access to creative outlets. I've been with Denver Kids for eight years and am a board member of the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra. There are a lot of things we can still do here. Similar to what Mayor Hancock did in providing every Denver Public Schools student with free access to rec centers, we can do that same thing with programs all over the city -- arts, entrepreneurship, finance management and more.
The other one is low-income housing and keeping Denver housing affordable. All of our creative people, support system and those who make Denver the colorful place that it is right now are getting pushed out to the suburbs and can't interact like they once did. Many people can't afford 300 square feet for $900 a month, so I want to work on some initiatives to increase the required percentage of low-income and mid-income housing included in new units, and also to secure development in some of the lesser-desired and blighted areas.
You're running on a cannabis platform while owning a dispensary. Do you see any conflict of interest or anyone alleging that?
I haven't dealt with anything yet, but I definitely expect it. I know it's going to come up, but I don't really care. Denver Relief isn't the first business I've owned, and it's not the last business I've started. Most of the businesses I'm a part of don't have anything to do with cannabis, so if people look [only] at that, I think they're looking very narrowly.
Do you see your public personality and reputation helping you in this election?
I think so. It's engaging and it's real. I won't be saying things people want to hear or dressing up for a photo opportunity.
It's about living your damn life and not changing the way you act just because you have a certain position. My position is irrelevant. I think I'd make most of the same decisions regardless, and would ultimately make the right ones.
The election for Denver City Council is part of the Denver Municipal General Election on May 5. For election and voting information, click here.
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