AURORA — Residents in Aurora are concerned that the city’s proposed licensing criteria for recreational marijuana businesses favors applicants with a lot of money who already dominate the local industry.
The newest draft of the ever-evolving recreational marijuana ordinance was recommended by city council during a recent study session. Now, applicants must have at least $400,000 cash on hand and a location already leased or purchased just to be considered for one of 24 recreational marijuana licenses that will be available in Aurora.
“How can you tell a business (owner) that they need $400,000 to open a business in the city,” said Mark Amirinoor, a resident who lives near Sable Boulevard and Mississippi Avenue. “I think that excludes residents from the opportunity and turns it over to gangs.”
Aurora city manager George “Skip” Noe said $400,000 is on the low end of startup capital. He said the city’s executive staff will have the option of defining where the liquid money comes from, but loans and IOUs will not fly.
“Your assets need to belong to you,” Noe said. “And home equity does not count.”
A proposed $17,500 annual operating fee will also be assessed to any recreational marijuana business that opens in the city.
Noe said the operating fee will be used to cover the cost of seven new, full-time employees who will be brought on to take the place of seven current employees who will be reassigned later this year to marijuana ordinance implementation and inspections.
“That seems like an impossibly high application fee when the city can recover that money from sales tax,” Amirinoor said.
Other base requirements to be considered for a license include passing a criminal background check and having safety measures set up such as a vault that’s bolted to the floor, security cameras and a lock on trash bins.
After the minimum checklist, Aurora is considering using a points system until 24 clear winners emerge — four for each of Aurora’s six wards.
Right now, there are six categories in which a candidate can earn points, and three of those six are related to prior experience in the marijuana industry. Aurora does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I know previous experience is a valuable thing to have, but it also recycles the same ownership that we’ve had since the beginning,” said Chris Estus, president of the Louisiana Purchase II Homeowners Association in East Aurora. “That seems to be the road Aurora’s going down: letting the existing ownership in the state be the ones who get to open in Aurora. There aren’t any points awarded for being a resident of Aurora.”
Noe said that there are currently Aurora residents who operate marijuana stores in Denver who would now have the opportunity to locate their businesses closer to home.
Noe reiterated that all the application criteria are only proposals. The full council is expected to vote on the final ordinance April 28 and May 12.
Officials with the city said this conservative approach to licensing was carefully crafted since council last May enacted a moratorium on recreational marijuana in Aurora . Officials say this method was designed to bring the best, most qualified retailers into Aurora.
“I don’t think it’s the best — I think it’s the ones with the most money,” said Aurora resident Martin Konevsky. “Four hundred thousand is a ludicrous, high number.”
Megan Mitchell: 303-954-2650, or firstname.lastname@example.org