Plenty of hoopla will accompany the opening of recreational marijuana retail stores at the start of this year, but Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock won’t be participating.
The mayor won’t hand out keys to the city to an industry he’s announced opposition to. The governor won’t do the standard ribbon-cutting photo-op that usually accompanies a new industry coming to town.
Their absences underscore the arms-length relationship two of the top political leaders have held with the marijuana industry, which is still viewed by some as a shady enterprise.
Hickenlooper and Hancock haven’t welcomed retail cannabis sales despite predictions from state and city analysts that sales will be robust — along with sizable sales tax revenue.
Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64, the ballot measure that legalized limited possession of marijuana for adults in Colorado.
“Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them,” the governor said when he announced his opposition.
Hancock also has said he personally disagrees with legalizing marijuana.
Voters had the final say though, and approved Amendment 64 handily passed in November 2012.
Following voter approval, Hickenlooper and Hancock worked to implement a regulatory framework that will allow marijuana sales to flourish. Hancock initially pushed for a two-year moratorium on licenses for retail marijuana shops, but the City Council overrode his recommendation and backed allowing the shops to open at the start of 2014.
Hancock also pushed for a higher sales tax on marijuana retail sales than the 3.5 percent voters eventually approved.
Neither Hickenlooper nor Hancock plans to attend any of the grand openings scheduled for the first marijuana retail stores in the state, their staffs confirmed.
Their decision to stay away won’t stop the industry from robust growth, according to state and city projections. Cary Kennedy, Denver’s chief financial officer, has projected that the 3.5 percent municipal sales tax on retail marijuana will bring in an estimated $3.4 million a year.
The nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council projected that gross retail sales of retail marijuana will total about $197 million in the fiscal year set to begin in June and nearly $394.6 million in the fiscal year after that. The council projected the excise and sales tax on retail marijuana sales would generate $33.5 million in the fiscal year set to start in June and $67 million in the fiscal year after that.
While Hickenlooper and Hancock won’t show up for the first legal marijuana retail sales in the state, at least one Denver council member does plan to observe.
Councilman Charlie Brown, who chaired the council committee that shaped the regulatory framework for retail marijuana sales, says he plans to attend the opening at 8 a.m. New Year’s Day at 4305 Brighton Blvd. of 3-D, which stands for Denver’s Discreet Dispensary.
Leaders of the campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado will hold an early-morning news conference there on New Year’s Day to recognize the first-ever legal marijuana sales.
“I’ll be there,” Brown said. “I’m just going to observe. But I do not expect to see anyone offer a key to the city.”
Councilman Chris Nevitt, who has been one of the political leaders most receptive to the marijuana industry, said he’s not showing up — but not because of any animosity.
“I’m a union man,” Nevitt joked. “And I don’t work on the holiday.”
Christopher N. Osher: 303-954-1747, email@example.com or twitter.com/chrisosher