Denver marijuana delivery isn’t happening anytime soon, even though medical dispensaries were deemed “essential”

People and the industry want it, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
4 min. read
The Lightshade dispensary on 6th Avenue. April 1, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver residents William Chengelis has used medical marijuana for chronic pain since 2009. He can kind of laugh about it now, but the pain resulted after he fell off a ladder and broke his hand.

"I broke it pretty good," Chengelis said, chuckling.

The Army veteran said he uses public transportation to get his medicine. He's worried about going to get his meds, along with a quarter of his friends who use are having a hard time getting it because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was able to stock up a bit, but worries about running out.

Denver's law explicitly bans retail or medicinal marijuana delivery in the city. The state law allowing for marijuana delivery requires each municipality to approve it on its own.

"We should have delivery in Denver, it should be for patients and it should be for the general public too," Chengelis said. "It's only fair."

Marijuana dispensaries were deemed essential businesses in both the city and state's stay-at-home order (and they seem to be doing quite well at the moment). But city spokesperson Nancy Kuhn said in an email Denver has no plans at this time to "implement any emergency cannabis delivery program."

The state also gave health protections letting people order online and pick up at dispensaries.

Marijuana at Verde Natural's grow facility. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The only way Denver could opt in into the state law allowing for weed delivery would be through City Council approval. The city's licensing department, which oversees dispensaries, has been looking into a delivery option in Denver. A March 6 presentation suggested that it would come sometime later this year or early next year, but because of the pandemic, the city said this timeline may be pushed back.

They also have concerns that creating an emergency delivery system could impact the city's goal to provide more "social equity" in the industry. As part of the city's goal to look into new marijuana regulations, they want to figure out how to make it more accessible to people of color.

"Our focus in Denver is gathering public input to see if delivery is desired by our community, and input from city stakeholders such as the Denver Police Department and the Department of Public Health and Environment because public safety is always our top priority," city spokesman Eric Escudero said in an email through the Joint Information Center.

Marijuana lobbyist Cindy Sovine has pushed for more state laws expanding weed use for patients and consumers. She tried to get a social consumption permit in Denver in 2018 but was rejected by the city due to restrictions in the law.

Sovine said the city has a responsibility to look out for vulnerable people and help them avoid going out and into dispensaries. Denver has at least 10,660 people in the state's medical marijuana registry, according to February 2020 figures. That's about 13 percent of all patients in the state.

"It would make sense for Denver to allow their dispensaries to begin delivering," Sovine said.

Lightshade marketing director Lisa Gee said the industry as a whole supports providing delivery options for recreational and medicinal users. The company has eight storefronts offering medicinal and recreational marijuana, including five in Denver.

"We believe very strongly in delivery," Gee said. "If we had it right now, it would be a game-changer."

Right now, Gee said dispensaries are basically at the mercy of the cities they're in. Like Sovine, Gee said deliveries would be especially helpful for people with existing illness who may be more vulnerable to the new coronavirus and don't want to go inside dispensaries -- like Chengelis.

Cindy Sovine speaks to a reporter at a pro-Initiative 301 press conference, May 9, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sovine said it's time to stop thinking of Denver as a "marijuana-friendly" city. She believes the city doesn't like expanding its rules on weed, citing continued arrests for open consumption and what she said was a slow process to figure out deliveries.

"I think Denver was in no hurry," Sovine said.

Another option the city pointed out that's available for medicinal marijuana patients is a state program allowing "caregivers" to pick up weed for medical marijuana patients.

A dispensary in Boulder received a delivery permit last month, but Westword reported they would only be providing deliveries in Boulder.

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