Marijuana after Dark? Not in Denver (Not Yet)

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For now—and for at least the near future—Denver is America’s de-facto capital for recreational cannabis. It was the first, and until California or Las Vegas get their acts together, it remains the biggest show around.

As such, “Denver” is dangled in front of fearful, parochial City Councils and excitable NIMBYs as a cautionary tale of damage done by legal marijuana sales—apparently, “jobs” and “tax revenue” aren’t for everybody—and alternately held up as a model for how other cities can seize a piece of the weed billions for themselves.

One thing other cities won’t do, if they choose to follow Denver’s lead, is close up shop early.

By city law, Denver’s cannabis dispensaries must shutter by 7 p.m.—and it’s bad for business. This means rolling down the gate, just as restaurants and bars on nearby commercial strips get busy, including the bars, clubs and coffee shops that may soon acquire a license to have cannabis consumed on-site. (Where patrons will then acquire that marijuana is a metaphysical quandary, one of those open questions nobody seems to want to answer.)

In other major cities where marijuana is sold, like San Francisco, dispensaries stay open until 10 p.m. with no appreciable ill effects. And in cities just a short drive from Denver, the curfew is midnight.

Tired of watching would-be customers trek to other nearby cities where no such early closing time is mandated, Denver cannabis merchants are now lobbying their City Council to have permission to sell weed for just a few hours more each day, as the Denver Post is reporting.

“It’s confusing to me why Denver would want me to give all that money” to other cities, said Wanda James, who runs a recreational retail store called Simply Pure, according to the Post. The law requires James to shut her doors just as her hip neighborhood is heating up, and “it’s devastating to us,” she told a recent City Council meeting.

It’s not clear who the 7 p.m. closing time was intended to benefit, but as usual, it’s had consequences that can best be described as unintended.

For starters, there’s the nocturnal exodus of weed-seekers, a ritual trip akin to the lengths someone seeking a bottle of wine must do in a dry county or city with “blue laws” on the books, but with the added absurdity of having to do it in one of the country’s (supposedly) most-permissive cities for this sort of thing. Then, there’s the old saw that it’s helping the cartel, with any marijuana activity not captured by licensed and taxpaying outlets going to the black market, as one customer testified in front of the City Council.

There’s also the money argument. Denver gleaned $30 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales in 2015, according to the Post. With total sales in Colorado expected to exceed the $1 billion mark for 2016 once the beans are counted, that figure is sure to swell—and would grow even further if stores had more hours in the day.

But, as City Council members noted, most of the people asking for extended hours are marijuana merchants. That said, there is sympathy for the “working person” who may need more flexible hours—if you work, say, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and have a commute, your only option may be an early-morning visit. And, as legislators further pondered, the 7 p.m. cutoff is merely an arbitrary deadline set by state law that cities have no obligation to follow (which is why many neighboring burgs don’t, and thus draw Denver’s second-shift marijuana patrons).

There’s no set closing time proposal yet, and Denver has set no deadline as to when it may float one. To other cities wondering about the marijuana experiment, take this as a warning: stultifying debates about business hours are in your future.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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