The Pueblo Chieftain: Prudent approach to marijuana licensing

Budtender Miles Claybourne sorts strains of marijuana for sale into glass containers at The Station, a retail and medical cannabis dispensary, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. The DEA announced Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016 that the Obama administration will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs, despite growing popular support for legalization, but will allow more research into its possible medical benefits. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Denver officials gave retail marijuana dispensaries the OK to operate for an extra three hours in the evening — a measure that would bring hours for city retail cannabis shop hours in line with neighboring communities.

The City Council approved the bill 11-2 during a regular meeting April 24, which allows medical and/or recreational marijuana dispensaries to stay open until 10 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. The change is effective May 1.

“I’m pleased with 10 p.m., it was a compromise,” Councilwoman Kendra Black said following two hours of discussion which called for amendments and a delay in the effective date of the measure.

Council members Christopher Herndon and Deborah Ortega cast the two nay votes over concerns about more access to cannabis.

“Does it mean every time we get a request to push the floodgates open wider and wider, that we need to do that,” Ortega said of allowing dispensaries to stay open until 10 p.m. “We have 218 locations in Denver compared to our neighboring jurisdictions.

“As a city we need to be a lot more conscientious of the unintended consequences, especially about the impact on our kids,” she said.

The new closing time was a compromise from an original proposal which would have allowed shops to remain open until midnight. State regulations allow medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries to operate between 8 a.m. and midnight, with local municipalities retaining the authority to regulate local store hours.

With neighboring communities like Aurora and Boulder setting closing time at either midnight or 10 p.m., the measure will allow Denver shops to start profiting from evening sales and help reduce impaired driving to retail shops in other cities, supporters argue.

The city estimates it could see an additional $664,000 to $1.3 million in revenue if every store took advantage of the new hours provided under the measure.

Children advocate group Smart Colorado has asked for the measure to be delayed to properly study the impact of the city’s social consumption program.

Taking into account local law enforcement figures detailing crime at retail marijuana shops, police have predicted a possible 6 percent increase in crimes at marijuana dispensaries who operate at later hours.

Though the measure was a product of public hearings and feedback from police and finance officials, City Council members introduced four amendments Monday night, all of which failed.

Ortega introduced two amendments, stipulating that stores facing disciplinary action regarding their store license or those stores with a pending application for a license would have to continue to abide by the 7 p.m. closing time.

However, under the wording of the amendments, if a medical marijuana store decided to expand and offer recreational cannabis, but a license is denied, the store would never be able to expand its hours even just as a medical dispensary. The amendment also wouldn’t affect stores facing disciplinary action or in the application process after May 1.

Black said the City Council has spent months talking about the store hours and with the late amendment, there wouldn’t be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on a change.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said she wouldn’t support the amendment because it attempts to create leverage for something the city already has a process for.

“The goal is if you aren’t following the rules, you don’t get the license,” Kniech said. “That’s the consequence. Connecting it to the hours is just confusing.”

Councilman Paul Lopez said he would like to hear more information and data to help him make a more informed decision on the amendments and perhaps it should be postponed or brought back to the council later.

Herndon also proposed an amendment that would change retail hours to 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. arguing the majority of stores in Denver aren’t open at 8 a.m. according to city data. Herndon said he felt the bill had been rushed through the process, the community had not been fully heard on the measure and he was trying to strike a balance.

Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman said she disagreed with Herndon, as there have been several committee meetings and public hearings on the new policy and there was a compromise made on the original proposed closing time of midnight.

An impromptu amendment proposed by Councilman Rafael Espinoza would have delayed the effective date of the bill until June 21.

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