A guided tour of what Mayor Michael Hancock has said about weed in Denver

Mayor Michael Hancock today said marijuana is drawing what he has described as a “scourge of hoodlums,” or “urban travelers,” to the 16th Street Mall.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock addresses the press at a conference concerning a new use of force policy for the Denver Sheriff's Department on June 16, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

mayor michael hancock; press conference; use of force; police; sheriff; city and county building; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock addresses the press at a conference concerning a new use of force policy for the Denver Sheriff's Department on June 16, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)


Mayor Michael Hancock last week said marijuana is drawing what he has described as a “scourge of hoodlums,” or “urban travelers,” to the 16th Street Mall.

The other month we walked through Gov. John Hickenlooper’s shift from marijuana caution to reserved optimism. Now’s as good a time as any to give the mayor the same treatment.

Follow along and you’ll see the journey of a man who doesn’t like marijuana but who nonetheless has been a leader in the legalization process.

Hancock opposed the legalization of marijuana, and said so before the vote on Amendment 64.

“I do firmly believe it’s a gateway drug. I also think it’s the wrong message we want to send our children that it’s okay for them to consume or use marijuana …”

“We don’t want to be the first state in this nation that legalizes marijuana. I believe we will lose our attractiveness to companies, employers who want to come to our state. Tourism is the number-one industry for the City of Denver, number two in the state of Colorado, and I believe that sector will be disproportionately harmed with the perception that Denver is the marijuana capital.” – Westword, 10/23/12

He added that the city already appeared to be losing out on tourism “because of the medical marijuana leeway that’s been afforded,” Westword reported.

Once the legalization vote happened, city staff convinced Hancock to soften up a bit – but not much.

“If we had had this conversation five months ago, it would have been ‘Denver, opt out. Don’t go,’ …It’s because of the sage advice of the staff who said, ‘Step back. Breathe and listen.’ … I am surrounded by good people who want to make sure we as a city don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to public policy and that it is not centered on our personal beliefs.”- Denver Post, 4/8/13

From the same article: “There is no denying … the potential for a negative impact on our kids — on their home lives, their health, their education and their future.” – Denver Post, 4/8/13

And he definitely pushed for a stricter approach to marijuana as legalization day approached. He supported a proposal that would have made it illegal to smoke anywhere that the public might smell your weed, including your backyard. It also would have banned simply possessing marijuana on 16th Street Mall or in parks.

“Your activities should not pervade others’ peace and ability to enjoy. Marijuana is one of those elements that can be quite pervasive and invasive. I shouldn’t have to smell your activities from your backyard.” – Denver Post, 10/10/13

Eventually, Hancock and the city council nixed the odor and public possession rules. Instead, they banned pot giveaways in parks, and made it illegal to smoke anywhere that is visible to the public.

In 2014, people around the world started looking to Hancock as a leader on marijuana policy.

He remained cautious about legalization, but he continued to build relationships with the industry and with other politicians.

“That’s now water under the bridge. No, I did not support it when it went for a vote before the people, but at the end of the day, it’s now legal in Colorado and Denver.” – CNN, 1/24/14

The mayor also showed some support for the social-justice arguments for legalization.

“People don’t want to see us continue to incarcerate people behind what they consider petty offenses of possession,” he told CNN, adding that many people, especially young men of color,”have had their lives ruined, their futures impacted because they’ve been arrested with small arrests of marijuana.” – CNN, 1/24/14

He even visited Amsterdam in 2014 to tell them how we do it here.

“There was nowhere in the world we could point to that could be our blueprint. We thought we could look to California, but California was looking to us. We thought we could look at Amsterdam, but marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam — it’s tolerated. So we had to start on our own to lay down our foundation and values in Denver, and create our own policies.” – 5280, 11/25/14

In 2015, Hancock said it hadn’t been a tourism boon, but he praised the industry.

“The jury is still out on how it’s going to impact tourism. … It’s so minimal, the number of tourists who come here because of marijuana, that it doesn’t even measure on our scale of sales tax and hotel rooms.” – Westword, 3/17/15

And he had nice things to say about the people who grow and sell weed.

“In general, I have been pleased to work with the industry very closely.  … They don’t want to see this industry go bad any more than you or I want it to go bad. They are legitimate businessmen and -women who work hard for their resources. They have invested their hard-earned money, and they want to make sure this business continues to do well. I get it.” – Westword, 3/17/15

“I am very proud of the industry. The undergirding values we brought to this was protect our children, protect our communities, and make sure we regulate and restrict the access to this new product on the marketplace,” he told Inc. In the same interview, he acknowledged some potential beneficial uses of marijuana, but warned that the drug itself is rapidly changing. – Inc, 7/8/2015

In 2016, he considered a major new allowance for the industry, but also spoke out about local impacts.

That new idea was to allow “marijuana clubs” — places to use the drug, basically. It hasn’t happened yet, but Hancock sounded receptive at the beginning of the year.

“When you start looking at what the users are doing, whether they are visitors, walking up and down the mall and smoking in our parks, you recognize if someone doesn’t have a residence here that they have got to have an outlet. I haven’t said, ‘Yes.’ But I have said, ‘Give me more information.’” – Denver Post, 1/15/16

But Hancock doesn’t seem to want much expansion of the industry. Later, he wanted to continue a ban on new marijuana businesses, citing their disproportionate impact on low-income neighborhoods.

“One (concern) was … he potential impact on what we consider the vulnerable communities there.” – Denver Post, 4/5/16

Ultimately, he supported a plan that allows a limited number of new  operations. 

Which brings us to 16th Street again.

The city is reacting this summer to complaints about “urban travelers” on the 16th Street Mall.

Hancock said last week that legal weed could be a part of that.

“Marijuana is drawing people to the mall,” he reportedly said. In response, the Denver Police Department has asked dispensaries near the mall to stop selling single joints, hoping that it will cut down on public marijuana use.

Otherwise, though, the mayor hasn’t announced any further proposals to restrict the industry. It may be something, he said, that we just have to deal with.