Budtender Kirsten Duncan refills plastic jars at Starbuds on September 16, 2015. (Denver Post file)

The hits keep on coming for Starbuds in fight over marijuana grow license

A Denver District Court judge has dealt Starbuds a setback in its fight against the city’s first-ever denial of a routine cultivation license renewal.

In late June, the city’s top licensing official sided with neighbors in Elyria-Swansea who argued that the marijuana chain’s small recreational marijuana grow operation — located above its original dispensary at 4690 Brighton Blvd. — was a detriment to the working-class area’s quality of life and hindered its prospects for improvement.

Starbuds is challenging that decision in court, in part based on disagreement with Department of Excise and Licenses executive director Stacie Loucks over zoning rules. Starbuds contends that under the city’s retail marijuana code, its renewal should not have been subject to an administrative hearing that allowed for community protest.

Last week, Judge Ross B.H. Buchanan denied Starbuds’ request for a preliminary injunction, which would allow it to continue growing and processing marijuana plants at the site while the case was underway.

He instead gave its owners 30 more days, until Sept. 3, to finish harvesting the maturing plants in that grow facility. It then must destroy any that are left. State and local laws don’t allow for the transfer of marijuana plants between separately licensed locations.

An injunction denial generally is seen by legal experts as a bad sign for a legal challenge’s prospects in a case.

In coming days, said Dan Rowland, a licensing department spokesman, city attorneys plan to file a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case.

But Starbuds attorney Jim McTurnan, who noted that the city’s regulations were untested in court, said the case wasn’t over yet. If Starbuds survives the dismissal motion, the judge likely will consider the challenge more fully.

“We’re certainly concerned about what precedent this might set” for the marijuana industry, McTurnan said.

The judge relied on a broad reading of the marijuana code, he said, and gave the licensing department wide latitude to decide when to hold hearings.

Given that interpretation, he said, “Excise and Licenses is going to have a lot of power to eliminate businesses at its choosing. If that’s the case, it presents some due process challenges. It could be problematic for the industry if Excise and Licenses’ power is that broad.”

The Starbuds location is near the National Western Stock Show campus, the focus of an upcoming $1.1 billion city-led project to transform a swath of 270 acres into a year-round tourism, event, education and agricultural innovation center.

Neighbors’ concerns have included the odor they say the grow operation emits. McTurnan said Wednesday that in the past month, Starbuds has installed four carbon filters designed to reduce odors. He said that occurred well ahead of new city regulations that next year will begin requiring marijuana grow facilities, along with other types of typically foul-smelling businesses, to create odor-control plans.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com