A worker inspects a marijuana plant at High Country Healing, a Colorado marijuana retailer in Silverthorne, in January 2015. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Ban lifted: Retail pot is now a reality in this Colorado city, says city council

COMMERCE CITY — Those who want to run a recreational marijuana store can now apply to open a business in Commerce City after council lifted a ban that had been in place since 2013.

And recreational as well as medical marijuana businesses (or testing, cultivation or manufacturing facilities) now have more site options and a streamlined application process after City Council last week also approved updated zoning and licensing rules.

Medical marijuana businesses have been allowed in Commerce City since 2012. Back then, basic marijuana regulations for things like distance from schools and parks were adopted into the city code. But in the three years since then, no one applied to open a store in Commerce City.

So, the city examined its policies and adopted a less constricted zoning code that nixed a 1,000-foot setback requirement between marijuana businesses and also opened up a few commercially zoned areas to both types of marijuana businesses.

“I believe the reason that we didn’t have a number of (medical marijuana applicants) was that the number of available locations wasn’t as many as we have now,” said Commerce City City Clerk Laura Bauer. “We are still allowing them in mainly industrial areas, but there’s not that restriction from one license to another that there was in place prior with the medical regulations.”

She said, “When we adopted the medical marijuana regulations in 2012, it was a new territory for us and so it was kind of a baby step.”

The city has spent months overhauling its codes to, in part, address the snags hit with licensing the medical marijuana industry in the past, and to ready itself for allowing retail pot business applications at the same time.

Only one medical store ever came close to getting licensed in Commerce City. Last year, iVita Wellness, which has three marijuana dispensaries in Denver, received a conditional use permit to open at a 1,100-square-foot property at 5500 Colorado Blvd.

But the business owner never filed an application despite projecting an opening date of late last year. Before the conditional use permit was approved, iVita Wellness was denied to open for choosing a location too close to the Sandcreek Regional Greenway Trailhead.

The city subsequently changed the ordinance to exclude setbacks on trails after iVita appealed the initial denial, but it did not result in a deal. The president of iVita Wellness did not return calls regarding the abandoned location in Commerce City.

“The new ordinance changed the process for licensing … This step was taken for both the city and the applicant, so that we both know what we’re doing,” Bauer said. “We also plan to bring in the fire department, water department and Tri-County Health, so we are collaborating with other governmental agencies to provide almost a one-stop shop for the applicant.”

The city was requiring medical marijuana businesses to get a conditional use permit before they applied, and now that step has been eliminated. There will also be a required public hearing in front of a licensing officer in lieu of the previous, citizen-board marijuana licensing authority, which was also the city’s liquor licensing authority.

City Councilman Andrew Amador said that in 2012, Commerce City wanted to take the time to get its regulations right before licensing any marijuana businesses, which he said are not wholly popular among Commerce City residents.

“City staff drafted a rough zoning map for the marijuana industry in 2012, but until they received (more specific zoning) directions from the City Council … they weren’t sure what it ultimately would look like,” Amador said. “Council diligently went through the regulations of other jurisdictions to ensure the best protection of our schools, residents, businesses and children, and it was just time for us to step up the regulation side.”

Megan Mitchell: 303-954-2650, mmitchell@denverpost.com or twitter.com/Mmitchelldp

This story was first published on DenverPost.com