The Denver skyline rises above Greenwerkz grow houses on the 800 block of Wyandot Street on Dec. 30, 2015 in Denver. (Brent Lewis, Denver Post file)

Denver council’s caps on marijuana industry have a little wiggle room

Formal proposal is being drafted by Denver Councilwoman Robin Kniech, could be presented April 4

The City Council appeared Monday to settle on allowing pending applications for new marijuana stores and grow houses to proceed when Denver lifts a moratorium May 1.

Although some members hesitated on that issue, the guidance gave the green light to Councilwoman Robin Kniech to craft a formal proposal that still would replace the moratorium on new entrants into the market with new citywide caps on stores and cultivation facilities. Applicants in the pipeline would be included under the caps.

But future applications for those types of businesses would compete for licenses that become available through lotteries, with some restrictions set on where they could go.

Kniech is aiming to present the measure to the council’s moratorium committee, made up of all 13 members, on April 4. That would give it a chance of passing the full council before the city’s temporary moratorium expires.

The city set its original two-year moratorium before the start of recreational marijuana sales in January 2014, restricting the retail side to existing medical licensees. When that expired, the council extended an expanded version for four months to allow time to discuss a permanent solution.

During the original moratorium, prospective businesses applied for hundreds of licenses of different kinds in anticipation of it being lifted. If all were issued, they would result in 52 new locations, including new shops and grow houses in neighborhoods reeling from oversaturation.

“They (applied) in good faith,” Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman said. “They made lots of investment in it, and I think if we pulled back on it now, it would be bad faith for us as government legislators.”

Some council members also fear quashing applications would invite lawsuits.

After all council members chimed in, President Chris Herndon estimated six to seven were in favor of allowing pending licenses to proceed, with some undecided. Three — Herndon, Kevin Flynn and Debbie Ortega — would stop all applications because they view the industry as saturated.

Paul Lopez is among those with reservations based on wanting to limit applications in oversaturated areas.

Some business and industry interests say the caps could be workable, but allowing current applicants to proceed has been a sticking point for many.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com