City Council approves a new license allowing marijuana research in Denver

Coronavirus isn’t stopping the city’s plans to update Denver’s weed rules.

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

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

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

On Monday, Denver City Council approved a new marijuana research and development license for the city, paving the way for studies involving the plant. The final vote was 12-1, with Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca voting against the measure.

Denver Department of Excise and Licenses executive director Ashley Kilroy said the new R&D license, and a lottery cap for new dispensary licenses city council approved April 6, are part of the department’s first phase of updating the city’s marijuana laws.

Kilroy called the R&D licenses a new economic opportunity for the city.

“We think it’s an important license type…it will help to continue to keep Denver at the forefront of marijuana legalization and preserve our reputation as a leader in the regulated cannabis industry,” she said.

In March, the city provided a glimpse at what it was hoping to accomplish with the updates, even laying out timelines. But then the global pandemic broke out, leading to what Kilroy called “a slight delay.”

A big part of updating the city’s weed laws will be providing a social-equity plan. But there are disagreements about how it will be used.

The social-equity plan detail how to make the industry more accessible to people of color. The department has commissioned a report, which Kilroy said should be completed by the end of the month, to figure out how the plan would work.

City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca during a weekly council meeting, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca during a weekly council meeting, Jan. 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

CdeBaca said the licensing department has not provided enough chances for people of color to weigh in on the plans, which will be discussed in virtual meetings with stakeholders. She wants to include requirements, like Colorado residency for the research and development licensing, that would give locals an edge.

She has concerns that without such a requirement, big tobacco or pharmaceutical companies will land a majority of the licenses. Kilroy said there hasn’t been much interest in the R&D license three years after the General Assembly passed a law allowing them.

“We’ve had major issues with their department just in general when it comes to discussing equity,” CdeBaca said last week.

CdeBaca noted at the council meeting that one person who will likely apply — Albert Guiterrez, CEO of MedPharm — is Latino. MedPharm received a state license to operate in 2018, and the licensing department anticipates the company will apply for an R&D license to allow it to do more research, like have clinical trials and develop drugs, according to the Denver Post. MedPharm did not respond to a request for comment.

Girl Scout Cookies strain of cannabis at Simply Pure dispensary. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Girl Scout Cookies strain of cannabis at Simply Pure dispensary. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Simply Pure CEO Wanda James, one of just a handful of African-American marijuana business owners in the state, stressed the need for a social equity plan in place for the R&D license.

Without it, she thinks the licensed companies will be like the cannabis industry is now: overwhelmingly white.

“If the city is going to be serious about social equity, then be serious for all social equity,” James said.

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