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As one city doubles down on recreational pot shop ban, demand grows statewide

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By The Staff

COMMERCE CITY — While Amendment 64 made it legal to possess, recreational marijuana still isn’t getting the okay for being sold within the city limits.

During the July 7 meeting, City Council members approved on final reading a continuation of the city’s moratorium on recreational marijuana-related businesses in the city.

 

The citywide moratorium was originally approved in May 2013 in response to the passage of Amendment 64 in the November 2012 general election.

Upon its initial passage, Commerce City’s moratorium was intended to allow “the city an opportunity to review and consider the Department of Revenue’s licensing regulations, the federal government’s response to Amendment 64, if any, and the impact on the community related to the use of recreational marijuana,” according to a release from the city following the council meeting.

Invoking similar reasons, council opted to approve the ordinance to continue the moratorium for another year “to collect additional data on unknown community impacts such as the amount of revenue the city will see, job creation or loss, property value increase or decrease, health and safety impacts, and marijuana use among minors,” the statement read.

Amendment 64 allows individuals to legally possess a small amount of marijuana.  It also provides for retail sales of marijuana to be taxed and licensed like alcohol. 

In Commerce City, the legal possession provisions of Amendment 64 are still in place while the city government exercises its ability to prohibit recreational marijuana businesses.

While recreational marijuana businesses will continue to not have legal sanction in Commerce City, municipal law still allows for medicinal marijuana-related businesses.

One potential medical marijuana dispensary — iVita Wellness, which operates two locations in Denver — was granted a conditional-use permit earlier this year by council for a facility planned for 5500 Colorado Blvd.

 

Supply from demand

While the pot-shop frenzy across the state hasn’t officially taken hold in Commerce City, numerous shops just across the city limits have popped up in and around the Swansea, Park Hill, Northfield and Montbello neighborhoods of Denver.

The proliferation of medicinal dispensaries and recreational shops in other parts of the Denver metro area and throughout the areas of the state that have embraced Amendment 64 has thus far been supported by a sizable demand for the product.

Just two days after Commerce City Council approved the continuation of the recreational marijuana business moratorium, Colorado’s Marijuana Policy Group — consisting of a CU Boulder research group and BBC Research & Consulting — released a market study showing exceptional demand for marijuana products.

Based on three months of recreational marijuana sales, the data “finds total marijuana demand to be much larger than previously estimated,” the study read.

And that level of demand certainly isn’t just from Colorado residents. In the Denver area, almost half of all recreational retail sales were from out-of-state visitors. That “pot-tourist” figure jumps to about 90 percent in Colorado’s mountain towns and other vacation spots outside the metropolitan area.

In total, the study estimates about 485,000 adults in Colorado who use marijuana at least once a month — about 9 percent of Colorado’s total forecasted population. Those regular users, according to the study, represent the “vast majority of marijuana demand.” What the study deems as “rare users” — those who use marijuana less than once a month — account for about one-third of all marijuana users, and only 0.3 percent of total demand for product in Colorado.

Whether a regular user or a rare user, the study found total demand for marijuana to be much higher than previous estimates: 121.4 tons per year for adult residents, a 31-percent increase from an earlier Colorado Department of Revenue projection and an 89-percent jump from a study done by the Colorado Futures Center.

And even with those staggering numbers, the study also found plenty of use among residents under 21 who aren’t legally able to purchase marijuana and thus not contributing to the tax revenues derived from legal sales.

 

The pot landscape

While the market study points to a sizable demand from Coloradans and out-of-state visitors alike for marijuana and marijuana-infused products, most of Adams County and southern Weld County remain barren compared to the proliferation of dispensaries and recreational shops throughout Denver.

While there are more than a dozen Denver dispensaries and recreational shops within just a few miles of Commerce City’s southern boundaries, the further north you travel the fewer shops you see.

Beyond Northglenn’s Physician Preferred Products on East 112th Avenue and BotanaCare MMC just west of Interstate 25 near W. 114th Place, most of the northeastern edges of the Denver metro area have not embraced pot shops, medicinal or recreational.

In fact, after passing by Northglenn’s approved facilities, you’d have to travel to Carbon Valley to reach the newly reopened Dacono Meds on Glen Creighton Drive before you found another legal shop of any sort.

In addition to Commerce City’s moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses, the City of Brighton passed a ban on retail marijuana shops in June 2013.

At the time, Brighton Councilman Kirby Wallin provided the lone dissenting vote for the ordinance banning retail sales.

  “I believe that the voters told us what they want us to do (regarding Amendment 64). It’s a hard, hard task,” Wallin said. “They’re asking us to do the hard work that it takes to control it, to license it, to regulate it, and to do anything else is to believe it doesn’t exist.”

Then-Councilwoman Wilma Rose — now the Democratic candidate for Adams County Commissioner in District 5 — echoed the various apprehensions from other council members at the time that the marijuana industry statewide wasn’t under control and that it was a bit premature to see if Brighton is ready for recreational pot shops.

“I just feel we’re not ready for it,” Rose said at the time.

While recreational and medicinal shops have opened in Greeley and other areas of northern Weld County, most of the southern parts of the county have eschewed opening their doors to potential marijuana store owners. Further, the Weld County Commissioners voted in January 2013 to ban growing and selling marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county — a move that was made despite a majority of Weld County voters signaling their approval of Amendment 64 in the 2012 general election, though a higher percentage of voters in unincorporated Weld County voted against Amendment 64.