Denver Fire Department Lt. Tom Pastorius inspects a Denver marijuana grow operation in early December 2014. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Colorado cities and towns take diverging paths on recreational pot

A year ago, as Colorado cities and towns were preparing for the first recreational marijuana stores to open, most were optimistic they were prepared. Still, many officials held their breath.

Local government leaders from Denver to smaller cities and rural hamlets say the pivotal first-year rollout went smoothly, and in some cases it has proved quite profitable for local coffers.

“To be able to pull that off in that short amount of time, and to one year later have a pretty good understanding of what the rules of the road are, it’s a pretty monumental achievement,” Kevin Bommer said. As deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, he has tracked the experiences of cities and towns across the state.

Still, while 53 of them have chosen to permit retail marijuana — with 27 levying special taxes — more did not. The group counts 165 cities and towns that decided against taking the leap. An additional 16 municipalities have moratoriums on the idea of legalized recreational marijuana.

And looking at unincorporated areas, 23 of Colorado’s 64 counties have opted to allow retail marijuana sales or cultivation or both.

“I think the local option is one of the best aspects of Amendment 64,” said industry spokesman Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “If communities don’t want this, it shouldn’t be forced down their throats. At the same time, those who want it shouldn’t be stopped.”

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Pueblo County officials recently told The Denver Post that its plans to become the leading pot-growing county are all about economic development.

“This was obviously foisted upon us by will of the people, and everyone had to react fairly quickly,” Bommer said. But he credits state policymakers and lawmakers for setting the right tone for sober implementation of 2012’s Amendment 64.

Here is a look at the experiences of cities and towns that have allowed retail marijuana, often following on a track record of medical pot shops, and some that have rejected it emphatically.


Colorado’s capital and largest city attracted international attention when its recreational pot shops opened Jan. 1 with long lines out the door. It hasn’t let up.

“We just met with France and Germany last week,” Ashley Kilroy, the city’s executive director on marijuana policy, said in November about the many requests for briefings she’s gotten from government officials. Often, they have come from states that just legalized marijuana in some way or were considering it.

Map: Colorado recreational marijuana shops and medical dispensaries

Denver, with about 100 retail marijuana licenses granted thus far, has had few hiccups in its rollout.

And it’s reaped a good chunk of new local sales tax revenue — $7.6 million through September, about half of that from a special 3.5 percent tax approved by voters. It’s also gotten a share of a state marijuana tax.

The city in June tapped $3.4 million of the expected proceeds to beef up its inspection and regulatory staffs, expand public safety efforts and pay for a public education campaign.

And the newfound money got the city’s parks department out of a tough spot, with more than $3 million helping cover cost increases in the Central Denver Recreation Center project.

Given Amendment 64’s nearly 10-point margin among Denver voters, “we wanted to ensure that we adopted and implemented the will of the voters,” Kilroy said, “while, at the same time, balancing that with public health and safety and enforcing the regulations around it.”

City officials also have adapted to new challenges by adopting new rules restricting amateur hash-oil production and monitoring unregulated, small marijuana growing co-ops.

Local weed laws: How are Colorado communities addressing legal marijuana?

A remaining point of tension: the stringency of Denver’s ban on public pot consumption. It’s frustrated marijuana tourists as well as enthusiasts who want to celebrate their new freedom in public gatherings, including the massive 4/20 festival at Civic Center.


In November, voters in Lakewood decided against allowing retail marijuana stores in the city by a ratio of 54 percent to 46 percent.

Mayor Bob Murphy said the issue was important enough that city leaders felt it should go to a vote of the people rather than being decided by the City Council.

Dan Cohrs, chief financial officer for Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, campaigned against Ballot Question 2A last fall. Even though Lakewood residents resoundingly passed Amendment 64 two years ago, Cohrs said, they didn’t envision pot stores on every corner.

“When people voted for Amendment 64, they thought they voted for decriminalization of marijuana,” he said. “What they got were these superstores selling gummy bears, lollipops and THC-laced candies. That’s a far cry from decriminalization.

“What they are seeing on South Broadway and in some parts of Denver, they didn’t want here.”

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But Shaun Gindi, owner of Compassionate Pain Management in Lakewood, said the city “is giving up on a lot” in terms of potential sales tax revenue by disallowing retail marijuana businesses. CPM is one of a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in Lakewood.

“The same amount of marijuana is going to get consumed in Lakewood, whether it’s legal or not to buy here,” Gindi said. “The difference is people are going to drive out of the city and go to Denver and to Edgewater to get it.”

More: Recreational marijuana’s impact on Aurora, Colorado Springs, Garden City and Palisade

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