Dispensaries decry Denver proposal for mandatory public hearings

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DENVER -- There are more than 200 existing medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits and every single one of them seeking to sell recreational marijuana next year could be subjected to a public hearing under a proposal given initial approval by the city council on Monday.

A day after that rule passed the council on a 7-5 vote, the medical marijuana industry called it unnecessary, unfair and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"A mandatory public hearing would be appropriate for opening a new business, an unlicensed business, but we're talking about established businesses that have been operating for a few years," said Mike Elliot with the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

"It's an opportunity for people who don't want Amendment 64 to go forward to delay the process."

City Council Member Paul Lopez, who voted for the proposal subjecting all existing dispensaries to new public hearings, isn't sure how much the dozens of public hearings might cost the city, but he says the additional bureaucracy is aimed at increasing accountability and public safety.

"I think it's really important that people in the communities where your businesses are in have a say," Lopez said Tuesday.

Lopez is asking the industry to be patient, noting that Denver, unlike other Colorado cities that have opted out of Amendment 64, is making a good faith effort to implement legal marijuana.

"We opted in," Lopez said. "Denver is not like other cities. We want to see these businesses have a place.

"We know that there are a lot of other cities that are watching Denver and how we do it. We want to make sure we do it the right way."

Another rule passed will allow dispensaries to cater to both medical marijuana patients and recreational users -- as long as they construct a wall separating the two parts of the store so that the 18-20 year-olds allowed to buy medical marijuana can't gain entry into the establishments selling marijuana to recreational users, who must be 21 or older.

"That's a pretty onerous stipulation," Elliot said. "It makes a lot more sense, and comes at far less inconvenience and expense to our businesses, to simply stop selling medical marijuana to users under 21, which is what is being proposed by the state."

The rules will be debated at the next council meeting on Monday.

All of them must be finalized by Sept. 23.