Cannabis entrepreneurs won’t get any extra space to operate lounges in Denver

No one knows if slightly looser regulations would have encouraged more places to vape and eat weed legally.

Edible marijuana, in gummy form. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Edible marijuana, in gummy form. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

A Denver City Council bill that would have slightly eased restrictions on where entrepreneurs could open cannabis lounges failed Monday.

City voters approved “social consumption” businesses, or places where people can use their own marijuana, in 2016. But only two businesses exist, so City Councilwoman Kendra Black sponsored an amendment to loosen restrictions on where entrepreneurs could open up shop.

The failed measure would have unlocked about two square miles of real estate currently off-limits because of the proximity to schools, day cares, rehab centers and public pools. Cannabis bars aren’t allowed within 1,000 feet of those places, and Black’s bill would have cut those limits in half — except for at schools.

Lounges would have been subject to a public hearing and scrutiny from neighborhood organizations.

The Council members Albus Brooks, Jolon Clark, Paul Kashmann, Robin Kniech, Paul López, Mary Beth Susman and Black voted for the change. Council members Rafael Espinoza, Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Herndon and Wayne New voted against the amendment. City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega was absent.

Black was frustrated that her colleagues would not pass what she called a “modest compromise” between the marijuana industry, neighborhoods and the voters who allowed social consumption. She called the opposition “prohibitionists.”

“I’m really perplexed by people who are opposing this in the name of kids,” Black said. “By opposing it, are they saying it’s okay for people to be smoking in our parks?”

Some council members wanted to wait until state legislators deregulated the industry. Smaller buffers won’t change a business model that relies on people to bring their own cannabis instead of buying it, they said.

“What I think we’re dealing with here is a junk vehicle, a car with a blown engine, and we’re trying to fix it by washing the windshield and putting air in the tires,” Flynn said last week.

Shawn Coleman, president of 36 Solutions and a lobbyist for the cannabis industry, commended Black but was disappointed in the outcome.

“The state bill may give the council more tools to implement the voter initiative, however, that doesn’t remove the obligation to work on Denver solutions for Denver’s cannabis consumers,” he said in a statement.

Mayor Michael Hancock, along with several public health institutions and advocates, opposed changing the limits.

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