Simply Pure sells marijuana out of a storefront along the Highland neighborhood’s bustling 32nd Avenue, but its employees must shoo out medical and recreational customers before 7 p.m. — just as the bars and restaurants nearby hit prime time.
The store’s owner is part of a new industry push on the Denver City Council to extend the city’s hard stop on sales to later in the evening, a move that’s gaining traction.
Advocates point to late-night closing times in all neighboring cities that permit recreational marijuana sales — up to midnight in Glendale and Edgewater — and appeal to customer convenience and lost revenue when customers cross city lines to buy weed at night.
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“We are closing our doors at the point at which LoHi is heating up, and it is devastating to us,” Wanda James, Simply Pure’s co-owner, told council members at a meeting this week. “It’s confusing to me why Denver would want me to give all of that money to Edgewater,” she added, also nodding to sales tax proceeds the city might be forgoing.
“I would like to keep more money, and I would like you guys to keep more money, so help me help you keep more money,” she said, sparking applause from other supporters.
Longer hours have been on many dispensary owners’ wish lists since before the 2015 municipal election, when industry representatives engaged candidates.
During the first discussion of the issue Monday afternoon at the council’s marijuana special-issue committee, most of the eight members present voiced at least a receptiveness to the idea, though a few still were skeptical.
They heard from several marijuana business owners, the Marijuana Industry Group, a customer who says he seeks out a black-market dealer at night because of early store closings, and a voice of caution from Smart Colorado, a group that advocates for protections from marijuana for children.
But the council may not be ready to pull the trigger for weeks or months.
And some members view the request by the Marijuana Industry Group’s Kristi Kelly for a midnight closing time — the latest allowed by the state — as a step too far.
“While I do have some sympathy for the businesses, I think more about the convenience of the consumer,” Councilman Paul Kashmann said. “Some flexibility in hours might be easier for the average work person.”
He views a midnight closing time as potentially posing disruptions for residents who live near dispensaries but said allowing pot shops to stay open until 9 p.m. or so may win his support.
Boulder recently extended its allowed operating hours from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., matching Commerce City’s and Aurora’s recreational store closing times. Colorado Springs, which has only medical marijuana dispensaries, has stuck to 7 p.m., according to a presentation to the Denver council committee by the Colorado Municipal League.
While other members voiced varying degrees of openness for a change in hours, Councilman Chris Herndon stood more firmly against the idea. He said it might contradict moves made by the council last year to put limits on the industry.
“I’m trying to understand a compelling reason, because I have not heard from anybody who has said ‘Hey, we need longer hours’ that are not part of the industry,” Herndon said.
He noted that some tiny neighboring cities rely more on marijuana tax proceeds from a smaller number of stores, making longer hours lucrative. But in Denver in 2015, the nearly $30 million in sales tax revenue and licensing fees that came in from legal marijuana made up just 2.5 percent of the city’s general fund income.
Councilman Albus Brooks said Denver’s 7 p.m. closing time was in part a quirk of outdated state rules.
When the council set Denver’s retail marijuana rules ahead of the start of voter-authorized recreational sales in January 2014, the state permitted retail sales until midnight. But the council opted to match the 7 p.m. closing time then allowed for medical dispensaries by state law.
In 2015, the state changed Colorado’s medical marijuana rules to match those for retail, meaning that the maximum allowed hours of operation for both types of licensees is 8 a.m. to midnight. Cities and counties are still free to set more restrictive hours.
No formal proposal has been drafted in Denver yet. Committee Chairwoman Kendra Black said after Monday’s meeting that the panel likely would discuss the issue informally again at a future session.