Pot shoppers make a late night purchase at Emerald Fields in Glendale, which is open till midnight, April 29, 2015. Shops in Denver are forced by the city to close by 7 p.m., and it's become an issue with pot shop owners within Denver city limits.

Denver council delays decision on extended hours for marijuana shops

The Denver City Council’s marijuana special-issue committee on Monday opted to solicit more input instead of advancing a measure that would extend the city’s pot shop sales to midnight.

By the end of a two-hour meeting, at least two things were clear: The prospect of changing Denver’s current latest closing time from 7 p.m. to allow evening hours is inviting plenty of pushback. Some skeptics are neighborhood advocates who worry about tight street parking and late-night noise and crowds near homes. Also raising concerns is Smart Colorado, a group that advocates for tighter restrictions on legal cannabis to protect children.

But it was equally clear Monday that at least a half-dozen council members — and possibly a majority — support some form of extended evening hours.

When the committee revisits the proposal in coming weeks, it appears more likely that its members will advance a 10 p.m. sales cutoff to the council floor than a midnight closing time.

Kristi Kelly, the executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, told the committee that she and store owners were seeking a level playing field amid concern about sales lost to Denver’s neighbors. Edgewater and Glendale allow sales until midnight, and Aurora and Commerce City cut them off at 10 p.m. Meanwhile, liquor stores in Denver can stay open until midnight.

A few neighborhood advocates who testified during a public comment period expressed support for a 10 p.m. closing time. That included Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation’s Margie Valdez, who said her zoning and planning committee overwhelmingly supported that time.

But some council members, including Chris Herndon and Debbie Ortega, remain opposed or at least skeptical of the industry’s case.

Still, the supporters of extended hours agreed to slow down the debate. The committee will discuss the issue further at another session in coming weeks, and it’s likely the council will allow for public comment again if the measure makes it to the council floor.

“It’s almost common sense for me to allow at least 10 o’clock” for recreational and medical marijuana stores, Councilman Paul López said. “I’m OK with us debating it and talking about it a little more. But at the very minimum … it’s not outrageous.”

The committee’s chairwoman, Kendra Black, will invite city licensing and finance officials, police and some opponents to present information about the potential effects of later hours. Smart Colorado had requested equal time after seeing that the meeting agenda included only the industry group.

“Before any action is taken by this committee to advance a bill expanding store hours, we request that the committee provide equal time to presenters with knowledge of the potential unintended consequences of the extension of center hours,” Henny Lasley, that group’s co-founder and executive director, wrote in a letter to Black late last week.

Lasley’s letter cited several statistics from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showing that Denver students were more likely to self-report using marijuana or having easy access to it than students statewide.

She suggested that the committee request presentations on the operating hours proposal from Denver school officials, adolescent health experts, youth-serving organizations and public-safety officials before considering the proposal.

That position in some ways was predictable, since Lasley spoke out against the idea of longer operating hours during a general discussion by the committee in January.

But the measure is sparking worries among non-activists, too.

Kodie Ketchbaw lives a few doors down from a corner with three marijuana stores at the corner of West 38th Avenue and Clay Street in Sunnyside. She planned to voice her opposition to extended hours to council members.

“During their business hours, the traffic, honking (and) inability to park in front of my own home is absolutely infuriating,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post. “Extending the opening hours of the pot shops would only further aggravate an already unacceptable situation, in my opinion. It is only after the shops close that the street clears and we are able to park without issue and get some much-needed peace and quiet.”

Midnight is the latest closing time allowed by state law, which leaves it to local officials to set more restricted operating hours. Denver’s ordinances currently allow dispensaries to operate between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com