A proposal unveiled Friday by Denver city officials would spend new tax money from recreational marijuana sales to hire 22 employees to expand regulation, licensing and enforcement of the industry.
The nearly $3.4 million plan, to be presented to City Council Wednesday, also includes local spending to expand the reach of a planned state youth education campaign discouraging illegal use of pot by people younger than 21.
The hiring of 21 full-time employees and a part-time worker would expand capacity in several areas, including building, fire, health and food safety inspections; neighborhood safety; licensing; lab testing; and police investigations, with the hiring of an excise sergeant and a detective.
The new positions would have a lifespan of 2½ years, through the end of 2016. Officials will reevaluate manpower needs then.
“We know that we’re at the forefront of this,” Ashley Kilroy, Mayor Michael Hancock’s executive director on marijuana policy, told The Denver Post on Friday. “We’re facing issues that no one else has faced before,” leading to unpredictable needs.
City inspectors have cited and educated edibles manufacturers that are better attuned to chemistry than food handling safety standards, and the Fire Department has confronted an increase in people using home hash-oil extraction methods that include butane, sometimes resulting in explosions.
Police have dealt with the need to enforce public pot use restrictions, and to store and test a 900 percent increase in seized marijuana.
Mayoral spokeswoman Amber Miller said Hancock wants to ensure that marijuana regulation doesn’t detract from the city’s other responsibilities.
The city doesn’t plan to spend all of the projected $5 million in new tax revenue this year being generated by Denver’s voter-enacted 3.5 percent cannabis sales tax, plus its share of the state’s 10 percent special retail tax.
This year’s budget parked the new tax money in city coffers until Hancock’s staff could evaluate the city’s needs, project collections based on the first few months and submit a mid-year budget request.
Their evaluation has concluded, officials said, that ensuring the public’s safety is the top priority.
The council budget request includes spending nearly $1.8 million on business regulations and neighborhood safety efforts, $825,700 on law enforcement and public safety, and $746,000 on youth and public education.
Colorado allowed recreational marijuana sales — for the first time, anywhere in the world — on Jan. 1, under voter-approved Amendment 64. Washington State voters passed a similar initiative, with legal sales starting there July 1.
Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, email@example.com or twitter.com/JonMurray