City voters approved a “social use” law in 2016, but so far, only two businesses in Denver are licensed to allow cannabis consumption.
The law, as approved by voters, only required that the businesses be at least 1,000 feet from schools. But the city administration added a similar requirement for day care facilities, addiction treatment facilities and city recreation centers.
Under the new bill, those distances will be dropped to 500 feet for all categories except schools.
The proposal drew criticism from people who said they wanted to stop the spread of the industry, especially near places that children congregate, while advocates said the change would reduce illegal outdoor use.
“I don’t think it’s the job of any member of an elected government to make it easier for a drug industry to make more money, to make it easier for people to use drugs,” said Luke Niforatos of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-commercialization group.
Some groups, including the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, opposed the change, according to an email from Ashley Kilroy, executive director of excise and licenses for the city. Mayor Michael Hancock also opposes the reduction, according to city staff.
But advocates said social use keeps marijuana away from kids by providing more spaces for adults to use it. Some investors said the limits have pushed them to undesirable industrial locations.
“If they have nowhere to consume, they will do it in front of our children,” said Stacy Lynn, an advocate for children’s medical access to cannabis. “How do you get it off the street? You put it in a closed, secure building.”
The change will theoretically open an additional 5 square miles for the businesses, compared to the current 20 square miles, although there are other practical limits. The city is 155 square miles in total.
Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned whether the problem wasn’t with the business model itself. “I believe it’s a flawed business model. I thought it was goofy when we voted on it,” he said, adding that ongoing efforts in the state legislature could open better options. State legislators are looking at marijuana tour buses and tasting rooms, where people could buy and use cannabis.
The two existing businesses are Vape and Play, which briefly closed, and The Coffee Joint. Customers can vaporize and eat marijuana products in the businesses, but the businesses can’t sell marijuana. Alcohol is not allowed at the shops.