Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)

Denver marijuana store, grow caps get support from Mayor Hancock

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock so far has stayed out of the City Council’s efforts to figure out what will replace a moratorium restricting new marijuana licenses when it expires May 1.

Hancock’s administration had asked to extend a two-year-old moratorium — which now bars new entrants into the medical and recreational markets — for another two years. But late last year, the council balked. It instead approved a four-month extension that has given council members time to work out more permanent restrictions in a special issue committee.

On Tuesday, the mayor weighed in on a solidifying proposal that won committee approval Monday and said he liked what he’d seen so far — though with some lingering concern. The thrust of the council proposal is to replace the moratorium with citywide caps on the number of stores and cultivation facilities.

“I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s a good bill,” Hancock said, noting he’d been briefed on its components last week by Councilwoman Robin Kniech, the lead sponsor.

Hancock spoke up at the weekly Mayor-Council meeting after Councilman Rafael Espinoza asked what he thought of the proposal, which passed the committee 9-3.

The council is treading cautiously, since some members who voted to move the proposal out of committee aren’t sure whether they will support it on the floor in the next two weeks. It will need seven firm “yes” votes to pass, and Espinoza alluded to needing the mayor’s support if it doesn’t win a 9-vote, veto-proof majority — which currently looks unlikely.

Besides the caps on stores and grows, the measure would cut off new medical marijuana sales and cultivation licenses completely, create annual lottery for any retail licenses that become available and add new restrictions on where new grow houses can locate.

But the proposal’s stance in favor of allowing pending license applications to proceed, potentially allowing dozens more stores and grows before the caps are set, remains a point of concern for some council members — and, it turns out, the mayor.

“One (concern) was the number of pending applications and the potential impact on what we consider the vulnerable communities there,” he told council members Tuesday, referring to neighborhoods near industrial areas that have been exposed more than their share to marijuana cultivation facilities nearby.

But, he added, he gains some comfort knowing that pending applications for some stores are being denied because of a stricter measurement method adopted in February for medical marijuana centers. New ones had been restricted from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, measured in walking distance, while the same restriction for recreational stores was measured as the crow flies — which sets a tighter radius.

Council-passed changes a couple months ago applied the stricter measurement to new medical licenses, resulting in an uptick in denials.

“The whole standard of eligibility begins to reduce that number kind of organically,” Hancock said, concluding a moment later: “We’re still concerned about impacts to vulnerable communities, so we’re hoping that number (of pending licenses) continues to go down in terms of those eligible applications.”

His second concern “is that we want to make sure the distance requirements are still in effect and that we follow through with that,” given recent concern from some about the proximity of schools to licensees that have been grandfathered.

Overall, Hancock said, “I commend Councilwoman Kniech for … proposing a pretty good bill which is pretty restrictive and really carries the values that we laid out: protect our kids, protect our quality of life and our neighborhoods, and make sure that we properly regulate and enforce this industry.”

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