Just 10 people signed up to speak at a courtesy public hearing, scheduled for an hour, on whether Denver should let marijuana stores stay open until 10 p.m., and they represented the same people who have been at the table all along — on one side, marijuana industry folks who want longer store hours, and on the other, Smart Colorado, a group that seeks to protect young people from marijuana and that advocates for more rather than less restrictive policies.
So with that, Denver City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance that would extend pot store hours from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with the understanding that two amendments that could somewhat restrict those new hours will be introduced next week when the council holds a second vote on the change. Depending on the details of the amendments, a third vote could be necessary.
One amendment, from Councilman Chris Herndon, would remove some of the morning hours in exchange for the later evening hours. The other amendment, from Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega, would not allow stores with pending license applications or those going through disciplinary proceedings for potential violations to take advantage of the extended hours. Ortega abstained from the initial vote, while Herndon voted yes for purposes of continuing the discussion. Ortega and Herndon both voted no at the committee level.
Ortega chastised one of the pro-marijuana industry speakers for questioning why Smart Colorado was given such a large role in the conversation. Nick LoVuolo wants stores to be able to stay open until midnight, as allowed under state law and asked officials how they could possibly arrive at the conclusion that they should cut off legal access when the black market is most active.
“As a grandmother of small children, I think the concern about the impact on our children is one we need to be cognizant of,” Ortega said. “I don’t think we’ve taken all of the unintended consequences into account. … As a city, having a balanced discussion is important.”
Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, the umbrella group of Denver’s registered neighborhood organizations, supports the 10 p.m. close. Margie Valdez, who chairs the zoning and planning committee of INC, said there is far more concern within the group about how social consumption will be implemented.
Councilwoman Kendra Black, the sponsor of the ordinance extending store hours, said it’s about convenience for consumers. Neighboring jurisdictions with longer store hours don’t report more crime or other problems associated with those hours.
“Law-abiding citizens of legal age patronize these stores,” she said. “These are not kids. These are not drug dealers.”
Several speakers said they would oppose a reduction in hours in the morning. John Edward Cero said people who work second shift need early morning store hours, while Tiffany Goldman said a later start time would hurt her employees who are single parents and prefer to work early and leave when their kids get out of school.
“Cannabis should be treated like any other business,” was the theme from speakers associated with the industry.
Councilman Rafael Espinoza said he hears from constituents, though, who have had problems with “bad actors” in his northwest Denver district.
“It’s not like any other business,” he said. “You can’t take a credit card payment. You can’t do this. You can’t do that. It’s not like selling jewelry.”
Council President Albus Brooks, for his part, said he’d like to know the policy rationale for a 10 p.m. close as opposed to midnight.
“The policy conversation is, should we take the hours and make them parallel with the state?” he said. “It’s a funny conversation because Denver is always ahead of the state most of the time. Here we’re a little behind. And then there is the political conversation. What is palatable to the community? I believe we have the 10 p.m. time because that’s what’s palatable to the community.”
And he noted that he’s the father of three young children and has neighbors who “partake regularly.”
“My kids are okay,” he said. “We’ve had great conversations around it.”