About a year ago, Karen Cuthbertson, the head of the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association in Denver, began noticing discussions on the group’s Facebook page about skunks infiltrating the neighborhood.
What are we to do, the Athmar Park residents asked, about the influx of stinky beasts?
Cuthbertson, though, suspected blame for the new smells might best be placed not on skunks but on something thriving in the industrial areas on the neighborhood’s eastern boundary near the South Platte River: skunky marijuana.
“People think there is a skunk problem,” she said. “I’ve said, ‘Perhaps it’s not skunks.’ “
Such is life in Colorado’s cannabis belt.
To the list of agricultural regions of Colorado that includes the San Luis Valley and the Grand Valley, add the South Platte Valley right through the heart of Denver.
Newly available data from the state show that a ribbon of land on either side of the river, starting just below West Evans Avenue and ending just above Interstate 70, is home to more than 250 large medical-marijuana cultivation sites, more than any other location in the state.
In a 1-mile radius around the intersection of Interstate 25 and West Sixth Avenue, there are about 120 “grows,” according to an analysis of the data by The Denver Post.
There are 462 growing facilities in the city and county of Denver that have applied for a state license, according to the state’s data. Statewide, there are 1,114 grows.
All the cultivation facilities must be linked to either a dispensary or a maker of marijuana-infused products, of which there are just more than 1,000 in the state, according to the latest numbers. Some businesses have multiple growing sites.
Addresses of the growing facilities were kept confidential until the legislature passed a law, which took effect this past summer, making them public. Still, the grows have largely remained incognito.
Most are tucked into nondescript warehouse spaces, surrounded by electrical-supply companies and businesses that sell countertop granite. None has a sign out front. And aside from the occasional skunklike scent of budding marijuana, it’s hard to know they’re there.
Cuthbertson said she hadn’t heard any specific complaints about grows in Athmar Park, noting that, because the city requires them to be in more industrial areas, they are largely separate from the neighborhood’s residential sections.
A Denver police spokesman declined to talk about whether the grows are trouble spots, worried in part that discussing their locations could make them targets for criminals.
“I have had no complaints in my district, and I have quite a few grow operations,” said Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt, who represents a swath of southeast and southwest Denver. “Frankly, they have been a godsend. They are filling a lot of empty commercial space and warehouse space.”
But not everybody is as thrilled with the grows.
Councilman Paul Lopez, who represents west Denver, said it is important to keep the grows contained to the industrial areas and not crowded in any one spot, so as not to prevent other development opportunities.
“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said. “We’re keeping watch so that it doesn’t create an undue overproliferation in our neighborhood.”
Councilwoman Judy Montero, who represents north and central Denver, went a step further, suggesting that the presence of grows in some areas might need to be re-evaluated as those areas look to redevelop.
“I don’t see the uses of medical marijuana grow facilities being consistent with our land- use visions for the future of these communities,” she wrote in a prepared statement.
Such a clash has already occurred in Montero’s district, when developer Mickey Zeppelin complained about a large marijuana-growing warehouse off of Brighton Boulevard — across the river from one of his developments. The grow’s operators responded by threatening a lawsuit against Zeppelin for allegedly making it difficult to sublet space in the warehouse to other growers because of the publicity.
It is unclear whether a suit was ever filed, and Scott Turner, the general manager of Grass Roots Health and Wellness Center, said he couldn’t talk about the ongoing legal battle. But he said the grow hasn’t generated any complaints from other neighbors.
“We’re spending our money at the local businesses,” Turner said. “We’ve made a lot of good friends in the neighborhood.”
John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org