Article by David Brown, Lift News
Ashley Kilroy, whose official title is the Executive Director of Excise and Licenses with the City of Denver, was the lead on the city’s goal of ushering in legalization policies after the state voted to legalize in late 2012.
Kilroy says that after the state voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, with a start date of January 2014, the city had about 200 unlicensed cannabis dispensaries operating, most of them operating at the time as medical dispensaries.
She and Dan Rowland, Director of Public Affairs, Department of Excise & Licenses for the City and County of Denver, say they took a ‘phased-in approach’ by working with these business to transition or close all of them in time for the implementation of legalization in 2014.
Colorado’s experience was different than the approach being taken by many cities in Canada, Kilroy explains, because of the precedent set by the 2009 US Ogden Memo which was issued by the then-Obama Administration, establishing a federal policy of not targeting legal businesses in states that have established legal cannabis regulatory regimes. This policy helped open the flood gates to these business, Kilroy says, and the city chose to take an approach of managing and transitioning existing businesses, as well as shutting down un-cooperative ones.
“The question of what you’re going to do with those business who are already up and running, that’s really a policy question,” says Kilroy. “The way we did it is we sent a letter in April of 2013, with a deadline of being licenced by July 2013. It said you have to be licensed by the deadline, or you will be an illegal operator, subject to criminal penalties.”
By working with these business and providing information online and through workshops, etc, she says the city was able to achieve nearly full compliance by their target date of July 2013, with only two unlicensed businesses still open on June 30, 2013.
“Frankly this is uncharted territory, we’re going to have to monitor it and see how it develops. The experience of other jurisdictions such as the US has shown us that it is better to start with strong controls and evaluate the system over time.” -Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa
While she and Rowland say they understand the difference in the approach being taken in Canada versus Colorado, they both agree that working with cooperative, established businesses has helped the city have what they consider a successful approach thus far.
“If you’ve got people operating in a grey area but are arguably good actors because maybe the cops haven’t been called there, there haven’t been any underage sales, they are in an appropriately zoned area, can pass the criminal background checks…. our opinion was those were good operators and we allowed them to be licensed and be legal business owners,” says Kilroy.