Only a small number of retail marijuana shops are expected to open in Denver on Jan. 1, when the historic law begins to allow the legal commercial sale of pot.
“I don’t think it is going to be the huge rollout that most people think on Jan. 1,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in an interview with The Denver Post in which he voiced opposition to marijuana legalization.
“We are just getting through those hearings, and those businesses still have to go through the inspections. … Whether or not they can do that before Jan. 1 is going to be really challenging at best,” Hancock said.
Business owners working through the application process are upset about delays they feel are unnecessary and could prevent them from opening as planned.
City officials speculate that Denver — the city with as many medical-marijuana dispensaries as liquor stores — will have an estimated five to 10 retail stores open Jan. 1, even though 118 are pending approval. Not all of those applicants are trying to open by Jan. 1. It currently has 212 dispensaries.
Before opening, businesses in Denver must get a state license and a city license that involves a public hearing and clearing five city inspections.
All of that takes time to schedule and complete, said Stacie Loucks, deputy legislative director.
The city on Nov. 13 began holding public hearings, 10 per week, and will increase that to 18 per week in January. The city had planned for the hearings to begin Nov. 4, but that was delayed.
Some dispensary owners are reporting difficulties in even getting the card they need to get the inspection process started for retail shops.
Ryan Cook, general manager of The Clinic Medical Marijuana Center, said city officials told him the city has two weeks to issue the card after a positive ruling from a hearing officer. He said that delay would make it extremely difficult to get inspections complete in time to open Jan. 1.
“This is starting to become a realization for a lot of individuals — ‘How is this going to happen?’ ” Cook said. “I think everyone, including the voters here, would like this program to move forward. If Jan. 1 is the date, it would be quite unfortunate if only one place is able to open, or just a couple.”
He said industry representatives plan to take their concerns to the City Council in an effort to speed up the process.
Denver officials, however, say an inspection card is issued immediately after a positive hearing result.
Amber Miller, spokeswoman for Mayor Hancock, said the city departments “promptly implemented the new regulatory system — concurrent with the state system — after the ordinance was passed in mid-September.”
She said staff was trained quickly and policies put in place when the licensing processes started Oct. 1. Some city workers are even planning to work on the Jan. 1 holiday to make sure any licensing problems are resolved.
“Departments are keeping pace with the initial high volume of applicants plus all other daily work,” she said.
A medical-marijuana dispensary converting to a retail store that serves people 21 or older doesn’t have to change its layout. A facility that will offer both a medical-marijuana dispensary for people 18 years and older and retail store for adults 21 or older in the same building must build a wall and have separate entrances and security equipment.
Miller said building code inspectors are looking at how the new retail stores will be able to accommodate more people than dispensaries. In some cases, exits may have to be changed and bathrooms may have to be expanded to handle the increased traffic, she said.
Andy Williams, co-owner of Medicine Man dispensary in Denver, said he hopes city officials will allow licensed shops to open on Jan. 1 even if inspections show construction changes are needed to meet code.
“Usually, Denver tries to be accommodating to this changing industry and allows us some time to become compliant while still being able to service our customers,” said Williams, who is expanding into retail sales.
The state says it has received retail marijuana license applications for 160 stores, 208 grows and 34 marijuana-infused product makers.
Most have been processed, but state regulators have yet to make a final decision on any of them, said Julie Postlethwait, spokeswoman with the Colorado Division of Marijuana Enforcement.
Regulators “are pretty solid on what the final decision” on the pending licenses will be, she said. But the state is hesitant to issue licenses until closer to Jan. 1 to reduce the chances of confusion and businesses mistakenly opening early, Postlethwait said.
She said the division plans to mail approved licenses to businesses in time for them to be received before Jan. 1.
At least three other cities in the metro area also plan to have retail marijuana shops open on Jan. 1 — Wheat Ridge and Glendale, both with two shops expected to open, and Edgewater, which will have at least four stores open.
Other communities have either opted out on having retail marijuana stores or have moratoriums in place.
“We get a lot of sales taxes for marijuana, ” said Beth Hedberg, Edgewater’s city clerk. “We haven’t had any public safety concerns. We wish everyone had moratoriums so they would all come to Edgewater.”
Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jpmeyerdpost
Retail pot applicationsas of Dec. 2
A total of 141 business entities have submitted 301 applications for stores, grow facilities, infused product manufacturing or testing businesses.
Grow facilities 157
Infused products 23
Testing facilities 3