Sixteen months after Colorado launched legal recreational marijuana sales, the center of the burgeoning industry in Denver is asking to extend shops’ evening closing hours and revisit the outright ban on public consumption.
And many City Council candidates in Tuesday’s election are receptive — including several with a good shot of winning or proceeding to a runoff.
Industry concerns center on competing with pot shops in neighboring cities that have closing hours later than Denver’s 7 p.m. cutoff for both recreational and medical stores. Some in the industry also want to provide tourists with safe, legal places to smoke or consume their purchases, since hotels typically don’t allow it in rooms.
Some candidates’ willingness to consider such concerns reflects an evolution in city politics, even if the industry-desired changes have yet to find favor with Mayor Michael Hancock.
“It’s great that we seem to have a lot of candidates that are proud of Denver having opted in (to recreational sales), and we have people who are true believers in marijuana policy and are running for office,” said Michael Elliott, who leads the Marijuana Industry Group. “At the same time, we’re really just looking for people who are going to be thoughtful and responsible, and right now we’re seeing a lot of good choices.”
It hasn’t hurt that business owners have talked about their issues with candidates, donated to them and taken them on tours of dispensaries and grow facilities.
There also are two candidates with ties to the marijuana industry who are strong advocates: dispensary owner and consultant Kayvan Khalatbari, who is running at large, and pro-marijuana activist and businessman Chris Chiari in District 10.
Though most candidates, especially incumbents, remain opposed to loosening public consumption rules, at least six of the 13 seats will change hands in July. The election of some industry-friendly voices could spark increased dialogue about changes.
The recreational marijuana industry racked up $149 million in sales last year, the city says, or nearly half of statewide sales. Denver received $12.7 million in tax revenue from its regular sales tax, a special 3.5 percent tax and the city’s share of state taxes. (It took another $6.6 million from taxes on medical marijuana sales.)
At least 10 council candidates have told The Denver Post they would consider extending dispensaries’ closing time, either by volunteering that idea in The Post’s survey of all 42 council candidates on various issues, or in follow-up interviews. They’re mindful of lost tax revenue when customers cross city boundaries in the evening. Shops can stay open until 10 p.m. in Aurora and as late as midnight in Glendale and Edgewater.
Elliott says his group’s own confidential surveying of candidates has found “the vast majority supported or were open to extending hours.”
In The Post’s questionnaire, 15 candidates wrote that they would entertain some loosening of public consumption rules.
None endorsed open consumption on the street or in parks. Instead, the candidates more typically favor ideas such as legalizing publicly accessible cannabis clubs or licensing some bars to allow small outdoor marijuana-smoking areas.
“We have to create legal avenues to discourage and prevent illegal behavior,” Jolon Clark, one of nine District 7 candidates seeking to represent south Denver, wrote in his response to The Post’s questionnaire.
A range of candidates back some form of the idea or are willing to consider it, including contenders running at large and in areas of the city as disparate as central Denver’s District 10 and the southwest District 2.
In District 7, home to the “Green Mile” of at least 17 pot shops on South Broadway, Clark’s support is joined by Aaron Greco, Mickki Langston and Anne McGihon.
For now, the prospect of allowing cannabis clubs or some other accommodation appears doomed by the city’s legal interpretation of the voter-passed amendments legalizing recreational and medical marijuana.
“Our issue is that that’s not allowable under Amendment 64 and Amendment 20,” said Ashley Kilroy, Hancock’s marijuana policy director. Amendment 64, passed by voters in 2012, says it does not “permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly.”
But some marijuana advocates say there’s room for discussion about options cities can allow.
“First and foremost, I want to see a real discussion about the definition of public versus private in terms of consumption,” said Christian Sederberg, an author of Amendment 64 and a partner at marijuana law firm Vicente Sederberg.
Loosening public consumption rules or extending dispensary closing times likely would face resistance from advocates including Smart Colorado, which supports tight restrictions to keep marijuana products from getting into kids’ hands.
“To see more visible public consumption is not in the best interest of our young people,” co-founder Gina Carbone said.
As for extending dispensary hours, McGihon in District 7 is among those who are more cautious on the idea because of potential effects on neighboring homes and businesses.
For Native Roots, a nine-location statewide chain of dispensaries, Denver has been good for business — but its latest shop is just outside the city.
“We specifically chose Edgewater (in part) because of its ability to stay open until midnight and its proximity to the city,” founding partner Rhett Jordan said.
The hours extension has been among topics discussed with industry representatives, Kilroy said. But she echoed that the change would require more input from neighborhood groups, which might be resistant.
She and the mayor say other marijuana-related issues have been more pressing since the City Council painstakingly sorted through startup regulations for the recreational industry in 2013. More recent action addressed home hash-oil production and plant limits for unlicensed growing collectives, and health regulators have focused this year on the use of pesticides in grow houses.
“While we’re dealing with requests from the industry, we’re also dealing with the unknowns that we had when we entered into this market that we have to deal with as quickly as possible,” Hancock said in an interview.
New challenges may be on the horizon.
In January, Denver’s two-year moratorium that has limited recreational dispensary licenses to existing medical marijuana shop owners will expire.
That will allow new players into the market — and already, it’s raising worries among activists in various spheres about new pressures on neighborhoods and a potentially oversaturated market for retail marijuana.
Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JonMurray
Marijuana shops in denver
As of January, Denver had 205 marijuana dispensaries: 103 with medical and recreational sales, 99 selling only medical marijuana and three selling only recreational marijuana.
Source: Denver’s annual report on marijuana regulation.