In Random Mold Tests at 25 Denver Dispensaries, 80 Percent Fail

Denver recently conducted random tests of more than two dozen local dispensaries to learn more about potential yeast and mold issues with marijuana, and the results weren’t good.

On August 19, the City of Denver sent a notice to every licensed marijuana dispensary in the city, warning that investigators would be conducting random assessments at about 25 stores in the coming weeks “to evaluate contaminants in products on store shelves.”

“Each sample will be tested for pesticides and total yeast and mold by a state- and ISO-certified marijuana testing facility. Results of their respective testing will be shared with each facility and will also be shared broadly within a write-up of results,” the announcement read.

Although that write-up is still months away from being released, Westword learned of the tests and analyzed 25 Denver Department of Public Health and Environment dispensary inspection reports filed over a two-day span in September. Of the reports filed between September 9 and September 11, twenty listed at least one or more hold and quarantine orders for cannabis flower, shake or pre-rolled joints, an 80 percent failure rate. Each of those disciplinary actions was tied to plant matter testing above the maximum allowed for total yeast and mold.

The failed plant matter wasn’t typically covered in white and gray mold like an old piece of bread, but can still carry potentially toxic fungi that isn’t detectable by the naked eye.

DDPHE officials would not confirm whether all 25 of the tests conducted within that two-day period were part of the planned assessment of potential mold and yeast issues, though they acknowledge that some were.

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“I would imagine we probably did some routine inspections during that time,” DDPHE food and marijuana safety manager Abby Davidson says. “All of our enforcement in our work from the beginning of workings with marijuana facilities is public. So maybe some [reports connected to the assessment] went out before, maybe some went out after.”

Still, Davidson adds, “we don’t typically do 25 investigations in a week.”

DDPHE officials stress that the random assessment inspections were part of a long-planned research project to learn more about the shelf life and packaging of marijuana that had been announced in August, and were not targeting any specific dispensaries. For that reason, when contacted by Westword about the tests, they declined to name the dispensaries whose products were recalled. (Westword found the names in city documents and contacted all of the dispensaries that had failed the testing for comment; seven responded.)

The majority of the dispensaries that failed microbial testing had gotten the flagged marijuana products from wholesale providers, which were not named in the reports. Every commercial grow must send samples of each harvest to state-licensed laboratories for microbial testing before their products arrive at the stores, according to Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division regulations.

“While there are defined levels of acceptable microbials prior to leaving the grow facility, we are unaware of the existence of acceptable post-delivery microbial levels once the flower product leaves the grow and winds up on our shelves,” says one Denver dispensary owner with two strains that failed the assessment on hold.

That’s because there is no universal test for marijuana products once they hit shelves. As with food at restaurants, products sold at dispensaries are only inspected by the DDPHE during visits or investigations. But state and local regulators aren’t necessarily trained to evaluate the products that marijuana dispensaries sell.

Dispensaries that sourced their products from state-tested wholesale suppliers were “set up to fail,” according to another owner whose dispensary failed the random assessment.

“As the state tracking system (METRC) would show us, the product was tested/process-validated and okay to be sold to the public. Otherwise, if the product has been marked as failed, as a retail facility, we would not have even been able to accept it into our facility’s system,” says another dispensary owner with inventory that failed testing. “If we had any inclination that the product would not have passed testing, we would have not received or purchased the product wholesale. We are debating whether or not to take legal action against the vendor for this inconvenience and loss of business that we have experienced.”

According to the DDPHE, the city is reviewing each of the failures on a case-by-case basis, using the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system and other resources to track how and when the failed marijuana products became contaminated after passing MED testing.

“There are many different reasons why products may show up on the sale shelf contaminated. It’s not that the dispensary that it was sent to had any hand, possibly, in contaminating the product. Or it could be that there were processes that happened after cultivation that maybe would’ve led to contamination,” Davidson explains. “It’s really hard to point any fingers until we’re able to do our investigation and backtrack to how that product got to that dispensary.”

Some of the dispensaries have destroyed the products that failed testing, while others have put them on a quarantined hold. Although the DDPHE will not be retesting the failed samples, it notes that businesses can retest them or re-mediate the plant matter, per MED rules, if they want to try to sell the products again or use them for extraction.

During the assessment, as many as six different strains of flower, trim or pre-rolls were tested at each dispensary. The DDPHE used state-certified marijuana labs and followed methodology from Denver Public Health that included the MED’s total yeast and mold standards; initial DDPHE results showed the sample failure rate of flower, trim and pre-rolls tested at between 35 and 40 percent.

Not all of the marijuana industry is on board with this approach. The CEO of one of Colorado’s largest dispensary chains, which had shake and pre-rolls fail microbial testing, calls the DDPHE’s method “questionable.”

“It is important to note that the tests collected by DDPHE were not taken as part of an enforcement action or as a result of any complaints received about our products,” he says. “DDPHE collected samples from several Denver dispensaries as part of an assessment of the marijuana industry that is based on questionable scientific principles.”

In July 2018, when the DDPHE first announced plans for a baseline assessment of dispensary product contamination at a meeting of the city’s Cannabis Health and Safety Advisory Committee, the Marijuana Industry Group — a trade group that represents dozens of Colorado-based marijuana product manufacturers and dispensaries — argued that the MED’s minimum standard for total yeast and mold testing, also used by the DDPHE, was too strict and broad, criticizing the process’s lack of specificity when identifying the overall amount of yeast and mold colonies.

Davidson agrees that not all the yeast and mold that might show up in a total testing count are necessarily toxic to humans, adding that “to figure that out, you’d have to do some speciation of the mold.”

When the city announced the methodology it had chosen for the baseline assessment in early 2019, the testing standards did not include any yeast or mold speciation. According to DDPHE division director Danica Lee, the department focused on the certified testing processes available at the labs, and specificity still isn’t part of those processes when examining marijuana plant matter; the labs are set up to comply with MED testing.

“The challenge there is that it isn’t part of the MED required process for the lab. The lab systems aren’t there,” Lee says of more detailed yeast and mold testing. “There is ongoing dialogue about how meaningful those thresholds are. They are what we have to go on, because it’s what’s in MED rule, but that’s an ongoing conversation between industry and regulators alike.”

State regulations for marijuana contaminants hinge on what the laboratories are certified to test for.

State regulations for marijuana contaminants hinge on what the laboratories are certified to test for.

Jacqueline Collins

Although scientists know that some yeasts and molds in marijuana are toxic to humans when smoked or ingested, it’s still unknown at which point the levels become harmful.

Authors of a 2011 study published by the National Library of Medicine explain that “both tobacco and marijuana are commonly contaminated with fungi,” which possibly leads to chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, a severe lung infection, when smoked. However, the test subjects of those studies smoked five to 22 joints per day for decades, and the study’s results were still unsure whether mold spores survive the burning process or whether exposure came from “handling the marijuana rather than smoking it.”

“Research into the pathogenesis of both marijuana-related lung [infection] and chronic pulmonary  aspergillosis are needed to proportionate causal blame in cases such as these,” the study reads. Another study published the same year by the NLM calls for more research into potential risk of smoking moldy marijuana and tobacco.

In September, the MED implemented mandatory testing for mycotoxins, a specific microbial that can be harmful when inhaled — but the new requirement was only for concentrate extracted from marijuana plant material that had already failed total yeast and mold testing, and didn’t extend to cannabis flower and trim.

Commercial marijuana recalls over mold concerns have dramatically increased since 2017, going from virtually non-existent to the leading cause for marijuana recalls over the past two years, surpassing banned pesticide use. In 2018, around 15 percent of Colorado’s marijuana flower and trim failed microbial testing — up from approximately 10 percent in 2017.

On October 14, the DDPHE announced a voluntary recall from Bonsai Cultivation, one of the state’s largest wholesale cannabis providers, over failed yeast and mold samples; Bonsai’s cannabis and infused products with concentrate extracted from it had been distributed to 144 dispensaries. This recall was one of a handful of city and state mold recalls since 2017; it was not related to the DDPHE’s random testing.

Why the increase in moldy pot? In 2014, when recreational sales began, the MED only mandated testing for potency, then moved into pesticides by 2015. Commercial marijuana wasn’t tested for yeast and mold until 2017, after enough state testing labs became certified to do so.

The DDPHE views total yeast and mold contamination as another growing pain for the legal pot industry — and one that likely was present in black market and licensed sales before lab testing identified it.

“Any time you have a brand-new industry that is completely unprecedented and comes online as quickly as it did in Colorado, it takes a lot of time and kicking systems of rules and regulations to get things functioning optimally,” Lee says. “We can reassure consumers that there are very meaningful assessments that are made at the industry level, and that we follow up. It is an ongoing challenge, and we’re not done tweaking everything.”

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Denver Marijuana Brand Lands National Expansion Agreement

Those brothers behind Binske are at it again. The Denver-based cannabis company has just announced a licensing agreement that will put the Binske brand in eleven states around the country.

According to an announcement from the company regarding its new partnership with MariMed, a publicly held cannabis investment firm based in Massachusetts, Binske will soon be available to over 52 million people aged 21 to 61 in states with medical and recreational marijuana.

Currently, Binske products are available in just Colorado and Nevada, with licensing agreements already in place for them to be sold in Florida and California by September. But thanks to the MariMed deal, soon they will also be sold in Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Maine.

Three of those states (Illinois, Massachusetts and Maine) have already legalized recreational marijuana, while the other four are expected to take on the issue either through the ballot or their respective state legislatures by 2020.

Binske is hoping to reach over 700 retail locations by then, quite an expansion for a company that’s less than five years old.

“MariMed is highly particular about the brands and products we align with, so we are very pleased about this licensing deal and eager to help expand their reach through our channels,” MariMed chief product officer Ryan Crandall says of Binkse in a statement outlining the deal.

Binske was founded in 2015 by Jake Pasternack; he was soon joined by his brother Alex. Together they’ve built one of the larger Colorado cannabis brands, selling flower, concentrates and edibles in dispensaries throughout the state.

Binske executive vice president Alex Pasternack.EXPAND

Binske executive vice president Alex Pasternack.

Courtesy of Binske

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The company is owned by Praetorian Global LLC, a privately held investment firm founded by Jake Pasternack that facilitates licensing agreements between cannabis license holders and established cannabis brands. Through partnerships with marijuana business license holders in these new states, Binske products can be sold without Binske holding an actual license there.

“The current market fragmentation in cannabis is primarily driven by the overall lack of product efficacy across state lines and the fact that some brands dominate market share in one state yet aren’t even sold in others,” Jake Pasternack says in a statement. “The fact that Binske products will soon be available in retail outlets from Malibu to Martha’s Vineyard enables us to reach an unprecedented number of potential consumers. That access, coupled with consumers’ awareness that they will get the same Binske product no matter where they buy it, is critical to building consumer patronage and, most importantly, trust.”

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How a Hemp Flag From Denver Made U.S. History on July 4

It’s been six years since Colorado native Michael Bowman pulled off a monumental coup for hemp on the Fourth of July. With the help of Jared Polis — a Colorado congressman at the time — Bowman briefly raised a Denver-made American flag above the United States Capitol Building on July 4, 2013.

That flag was made from hemp fibers, which were federally illegal at the time. Six years later, hemp is now federally legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, and Bowman has co-founded his own publicly held hemp venture.

But for Bowman, it all goes back to that historic moment in 2013.

“This, my friends, is what the beginning of the end looked like. We were winning the war,” he says. Still, it wasn’t easy to get his hands on a hemp flag; in fact, he had to rely on some quick work from his Colorado friends to get the job done.

At the time, Bowman was in Washington, D.C., lobbying for hemp and supporting then-U.S. Representative Polis with hemp policy reform. While he watched Polis debate a colleague over a hemp amendment one day inside the Capitol, Bowman spotted a flag flying overhead. Inspiration struck: Aware of a rule that allows members of Congress to request that flags be flown briefly over the Capitol building and returned to their owner, Bowman mentioned the idea to Polis. Polis was in, and Bowman was on the hook for a hemp-made American flag on quick order. So the man known among friends and industry peers as “Mr. Hemp” got busy creating one.

He first enlisted Adam Dunn, a Denver resident and founder of the hemp-based clothing company Hemp Hoodlamb; Dunn purchased the fiber in Manitou Springs and brought it to his showroom in Denver. Sheldon Reid of the Graffitee Factory screen-printing company imprinted the stars and stripes, and Dunn’s mother finished the job with her sewing skills.

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Colorado hemp lobbyist Samantha Walsh, an influential figure in Colorado hemp legislation then and now, shipped the flag overnight to Bowman — just in time for Polis to hold it on the House floor as he advocated in favor of an amendment allowing institutions of higher education and state agricultural departments to produce hemp for academic research. Polis’s amendment passed on June 20, 2013, making history as the first federal hemp legislation passed in eighty years.

A few weeks later, Polis asked that the Colorado-made hemp flag be flown over the Capitol, and it was raised (fittingly) on the Fourth of July. Not everyone was thrilled with the moment, though. Michele Leonhart, head administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration at the time, reportedly categorized the incident as the lowest day of her 33 years at the DEA while speaking to a sheriff’s group the following January.

Polis had a different outlook. “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. The first American flag was made of hemp,” he said at the time. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a Hemp for Victory video in 1942. And today, I am proud that an American flag made of hemp will fly over our Capitol on the anniversary of our nation’s birth.”

Despite Leonhart’s objections, the writing was on the wall for hemp. In December 2018, it was no longer lumped in with marijuana as part of the Controlled Substances Act after the passage of the Farm Bill, a piece of agricultural legislation allowing all fifty states to farm and sell hemp. Although hemp is the same species as the marijuana plant, which is rich in intoxicating THC, hemp is grown to have 0.3 percent THC or less, and doesn’t get users high.

With hemp finally federally legalized, the industry is exploding, predicted to be worth well over $ 20 billion by 2025. Colorado is poised as a national leader in the new trade, leading the nation in farming acreage devoted to hemp in 2017 and 2018 combined, according to farming organization Vote Hemp. And the future has never looked brighter to Bowman.

“We have gone from having to sneak a flag over the Capitol building,” he notes, and “72 months later, we are the number-one state in hemp.”

Bowman, a fifth-generation Colorado farmer who planted his first hemp crop in 2014, is excited about the opportunities that hemp can provide to struggling small and mid-sized farmers and dying farm communities. He was recently invited to sit on two state committees as part of Governor Polis’s Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (CHAMP) to ensure Colorado’s position as a leader in the hemp industry.

His new company, First Crop, recently brought in $ 2.5 million during a round of public funding, but Bowman believes businesses like his could also help reinvigorate Colorado’s rural communities and save failing farms. “The small- to medium-sized farms, the ones that are really struggling right now, we think there is a real opportunity for them in the CBD oil space,” he says.

But Bowman thinks that hemp has far more potential than just the CBD market. “Hemp is not a one-trick pony; this plant has so much diversity,” he adds, pointing to hemp’s potential in the fiber, feed, seed and fuel markets. He even believes that when grown under sustainable farming methods, hemp could positively affect climate change, sucking CO2 out of the air, absorbing toxic metals and reducing pollution exposure.

These are thrilling times for Bowman, who has been advocating tirelessly on behalf of the plant for nearly twenty years. “Hemp is one of the oldest crops. We can trace this crop back 12,000 years. The last eighty years are an anomaly,” he says. “There have been a lot of people even five, six years ago who said, ‘You’re never going to get this. It’s never going to happen.’”

Since that now-famous Fourth of July in 2013, Bowman’s hemp flag has been utilized as a symbol of activism, touring the nation via Denver native Rick Trojan’s “Hemp Road Trip” and educating the public about the benefits of the hemp plant.

So as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s celebrate hemp’s newfound freedom, as well. After all, founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp, Betsy Ross’s first American flag is rumored to have been sewn on hemp, and the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence itself were likely written on hemp paper.

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Denver University Students Learn How to Pitch Marijuana Businesses

Cannabis continues to gain influence, not only in new business ventures, but in college education, too. Just take a peak inside professor Paul Seaborn’s Business of Marijuana course, where students at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver took part in a potrepreneur pitch competition June 4.

Five teams of undergraduate and graduate DU students proposed new business ideas to a panel of cannabis industry judges including Julie Berliner, founder and CEO of edible company Sweet Grass Kitchen; Mark Grindeland, CEO and co-founder of Coda Signature edibles; and Carter Davidson, an executive at Vangst recruiting and staffing.

“From the time I joined DU in 2011, I just saw more and more interesting things taking place that were of interest to students. I had more and more students asking me, because of my business-government background, about the [cannabis] industry and wanting to do more projects on it and bringing in guest speakers,” Seaborn remembers. “To me, it seemed like an obvious thing that I was going to do, and I had to be quick before someone else beat me to it.”

But Seaborn is leaving DU at the end to the school year to take a position at the University of Virginia this summer, making the latest pitch contest his last — but it was hardly his most boring, with students presenting businesses based around pot business consulting, social consumption, recycled soil and cannabis spa treatments and nutrition.

“If you think you have a solution, go out and see if your idea is actually solving a problem,” Davidson told students. “A lot of businesses start by looking at a personal problem and realizing a lot of people have the same issue.”

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For the first team, Weed-Cycle, that problem was sustainability, envisioning a company that would take used soil from cannabis grows and remove dead organic matter by burning it in dirt-sterilization ovens. The soil would then be treated for repurchase and delivered to grow facilities in the Denver area. However, a successful business requires more than a cool idea, with Grindeland and Berliner asking questions about profit margins and transportation.

“Is it better to deliver the message softly, or is it better to hear direct feedback?” Grindeland asked students. “Be prepared to hear a lot of ‘No’ when starting a business.”

Other pitch groups wanted to jump on social pot use, which could become a viable industry after Governor Jared Polis signed a law that will regulate such businesses by 2020. The proposed Cannabis Collective was inspired by the popular food hall concept, allowing cannabis consumption in a cafeteria-like setting with multiple restaurants and games, similar to establishments like the Source and Avanti in Denver.

Professor Paul Seaborn talks to his Business of Marijuana students during his final year at DU.

Professor Paul Seaborn talks to his Business of Marijuana students during his final year at DU.

Nina Petrovic

Another group interested in social use wanted to focus on wellness, creating Cannablissful Spa, where customers could use CBD and THC products while enjoying regular spa treatments like massages and pedicures. Unlike the first two teams, Cannablissful Spa opted to locate the company in Boulder, a community known for wealthy tourists and healthy living. Their goal was to create a space where customers, especially those new to consuming cannabis, can feel comfortable and safe while consuming. Revenue would be generated through massage services, membership fees and limited retail pot sales.

Elevated Nutrition, the proposed cannabis nutrition company, opted to be located in Aspen, where it would produce CBD-infused food and tinctures aimed at athletes along with exercise plans and diet guides. However, the panel of judges noted to be wary about making health claims with CBD, which currently sits on shaky ground with the Food and Drug Administration.

Although not as sexy as the first four pitch groups, the proposed Pioneer Consulting Group wanted to cash in on the lack of education surrounding the cannabis industry — a common and successful idea in a trade marred by different regulations from state to state. The firm would provide business analyses and recommendations to investors and businesses in cannabis, providing market, competitive, internal and legal analysis as well as giving recommendations to cannabis companies on whom to partner with.

After all five presentations were completed, the panel decided that Cannablissful Spa was the only business with potential value for funding, believing the social consumption, tourism and wellness sectors was a good mix for potential profits.

Although this is likely to be the final offering of the Business of Marijuana class at DU (the class isn’t scheduled for the 2019 fall semester as of now), Seaborn hopes that courses on cannabis will continue to be taught in colleges in Denver and elsewhere.

“This industry is unique in so many ways, from state regulations to the way it’s taxed. And we know so little about how it’s going to look that it’s not something you can just integrate with other courses,” he says. “I would think there is opportunity to expand into some broader programs, whether it’s a certificate or a major or a degree program.”

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Carl’s Jr. Might Have Sold Over 2,000 CBD Burgers in Denver on 4/20

Call it a gimmick, a poor representation of cannabis or a complete waste of hemp — but it worked. The lone Carl’s Jr. in America that sold hamburgers with CBD-infused sauce on April 20 moved more than a thousand burgers that day. Maybe many more.

While early news stories reported that the Carl’s Jr. at 4050 Colorado Boulevard had served 1,000 burgers when it ran out of its CBD-infused Rocky Mountain High CheeseBurger Delight by 4 p.m. on April 20, we’ve received word from a Carl’s Jr. spokesperson who declined to be named (that’s right, we have insider fast-food sources) that the restaurant actually sold over 2,200 CBD burgers. Another inside source explains that over 1,000 had been sold by noon, and then the outlet kept selling until 4 p.m.

Before spending too much time debating how many burgers were actually sold, we can all agree that either figure is a shitload of burgers. Even if that lone Carl’s Jr. location, far from the action at Civic Center Park, did sell only 1,000 CBD burgers at the $ 4.20 asking price and nothing else on the menu that day, that $ 4,200 would still be well over the $ 3,500 daily average earned at Carl’s Jr. locations nationwide in 2017. And if it sold 2,200 burgers, as we were told? That’d be over $ 9,240 for those sales alone.

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There were lines out the door the morning of April 20 at this north Denver store, the only one of nearly 1,500 Carl’s Jr. locations in the country selling the burger. Thanks to Colorado’s relatively progressive marijuana and industrial hemp laws, the fast-food chain was able to legally infuse its mayonnaise-based Santa Fe Sauce with 5 milligrams of hemp-derived CBD, provided by Colorado company BlueBird Botanicals.

According to a Carl’s Jr. statement in April, there is potential for CBD burgers in more locations “as regulations allow” if the 4/20 experiment was a success.

Which it clearly was, any way you count it.

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Carl’s Jr. Testing CBD-Infused Burgers on 4/20 in Denver

You don’t need to smoke a joint or play hooky to celebrate 4/20 anymore. Just hit up a certain Carl’s Jr. in Denver that is testing CBD-infused burgers all day on Saturday, April 20.

Available only on 4/20 at the Carl’s Jr. located at 4050 Colorado Boulevard, the Rocky Mountain High CheeseBurger Delight will come topped with a mayonnaise-based Santa Fe Sauce infused with 5 milligrams of CBD. The CBD oil, derived from hemp, is provided by Colorado company BlueBird Botanicals.

Here’s the Carl’s Jr. description of the deal: 

The Rocky Mountain High CheeseBurger Delight features two 100 percent charbroiled beef patties paired with Carl’s Jr. signature Santa Fe Sauce infused with hemp-based CBD oil, pickled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and Crisscut fries to give the burger the extra crunch – all between a premium bun. 

The price for this meal? $ 4.20.

“We’re testing at one store in Denver, a city which has been a trailblazer in the CBD movement. We have done our due-diligence that we are bringing this to our consumers in a safe and delicious way, and we’re thrilled to be testing on April 20, 2019,” the company says in a statement confirming the promotion.

According to Carl’s Jr., there is potential for CBD burgers in more locations “as regulations allow” if the 4/20 experiment is a success. Unlike with many other items you can buy infused with CBD in Colorado, such as coffee or doughnuts, customers must be at least eighteen to buy the Rocky Mountain High CheeseBurger Delight.

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Purchasing products infused with hemp-derived CBD is becoming more common as the federal government eases up on hemp restrictions. Since the Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp farming in late 2018, Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid have agreed to stock CBD products, and such sit-down joints as lllegal Burger are serving meat infused with the cannabinoid. We’ve also reported about bars and liquor stores selling CBD products.

Buying a CBD meal from a drive-thru window is a whole new experience. Considering Carl’s Jr. unofficial connection with stoners of a certain age, though, we can’t say we’re surprised.

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Parkinson’s Foundation to Host First Marijuana Conference in Denver

As the recognized uses of medical marijuana expand, more traditional research foundations are becoming interested in the possibilities of pot. On March 6 and 7, the Parkinson’s Foundation will host its first-ever conference on medical marijuana…in Denver.

According to the 62-year-old organization, the conference will address potential risks and benefits of treating Parkinson’s disease with MMJ by bringing together “a diverse group of experts from academia, clinics, industry, government and the Parkinson’s community to establish a consensus on medical marijuana use in PD.”

A disease that affects the brain’s nerve cells, Parkinson’s can cause muscle rigidity, tremors and changes in speech in those who suffer from it. It is the second-most-common neuro-degenerative disease behind Alzheimer’s, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation, as well as the fourteenth leading cause of death in the country. Currently, there is no cure.

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Although marijuana has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities that protect brain cells, studies of the plant’s potential to ease PD afflictions have demonstrated mixed results. That isn’t stopping patients from trying medical marijuana or CBD medications to treat PD, however. According to a survey conducted by the Parkinson’s Foundation and Northwestern University, 80 percent of about sixty PD patients surveyed had tried marijuana for treatment, despite the fact that only 10 percent of physicians surveyed had prescribed medical marijuana for PD.

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“Now that medical marijuana is legal in 31 states and in many other countries, people are equating access to efficacy. It is imperative that we address the clinical implications of medical marijuana use among people with PD,” Dr. James Beck, chief scientific officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation, says in a statement announcing the conference.

The conference will have more Colorado connections than simply its location. University of Colorado Hospital associate professor Dr. Benzi Kluger is serving as co-chair of the gathering, which he hopes will serve as a call for more clinical research to help the families he works with.

“Having worked as a clinician for the past decade in Colorado, a state at the forefront of medical marijuana use, it is clear that people with PD and their families are intensely interested in the potential of marijuana and cannabinoids in helping manage symptoms and other aspects of their disease,” he explains. “To date, there is more hype than actual data to provide meaningful clinical information to patients with PD. There is a critical need to analyze existing data on medical marijuana and to set priorities for future research.”

Although the conference is invite-only, the Parkinson’s Foundation will publish highlights of the discussions and other details shortly after it’s over. You can also learn more about medical marijuana and PD by calling 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or visiting the foundation’s website.

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Denver Dispensaries Have Collected Nearly $2.4 Billion Since Legalization

Denver no longer has the distinction of being the only major city with retail marijuana dispensaries, but that hasn’t stopped weed from flying off the shelves here. This city has seen almost $ 2.4 billion in marijuana sales since the first retail dispensary opened on January 1, 2014, according to our calculations based on Colorado Department of Revenue data.

Denver has been the center of the statewide marijuana industry since its inception, and by 2018 it was home to over 210 medical, recreational and dual-use dispensaries. DOR data shows that Denver County dispensaries accounted for well over one-third of Colorado’s $ 6 billion in marijuana sales from 2014 through 2018, and brought in over $ 536 million last year alone.

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But that Denver sales figure reflects a slight 7 percent drop from the year before, falling from $ 577.5 million in 2017. Meanwhile, statewide sales increased around 2.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Over the past sixteen months, more than a dozen new dispensaries have opened in north Denver suburbs such as Commerce City, Federal Heights, Thornton and Longmont. But more states also began recreational pot sales in 2018, such as California and Nevada. And then there’s Canada….

Data for Colorado marijuana sales in 2019 are not yet available. Here are the annual sales numbers for the City and County of Denver from 2014 through 2018:

  • 2014 — $ 325.9 million
  • 2015 — $ 413 million
  • 2016 — $ 501.6 million
  • 2017 — $ 577.5 million
  • 2018 — $ 536.6 million

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Ricki Lake’s Weed the People Premieres in Denver to Recount America’s MMJ Battle

Weed the People is not your typical weed documentary full of rants and conspiracy theories. The film, which debuted in Denver on Friday, December 7, at the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan’s Lake, is social commentary on the lack of government research into the possible health benefits of cannabis.

Spanning over four years, Weed the People is a journey into difficult territory as families struggle for alternative methods of curing their children’s cancer. Parents take matters into their own hands by dosing their sick children with cannabis oil, oftentimes paying thousands of dollars without insurance to help their children.

One of the film’s youngest subjects is an infant named Sophie, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at eight months. After learning that cannabis oil was curing certain forms cancer in other pediatric patients, Sophie’s parents began working with Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s cannabis extracts, to customize a treatment plan for their young daughter in hopes that it would work alongside chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The film depicts the success of these treatments, which ultimately saved Sophie’s life.

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Gordon goes on to help others in the film, like Chico, a teenager who is also battling cancer. In the beginning of the documentary, we see Chico riddled with pain as his mother is buying cannabis oil that she suspects is infused with rubbing alcohol, a toxic leftover of certain forms of cannabis extraction. Gordon helps Chico’s mom find the right medicine for her son, and his condition eventually improves.

“I can’t even imagine the suffering, and needless suffering, that’s going on throughout this country, and throughout the world, because of the inability to access this miraculous plant,” Gordon says in the film. “Cannabis can be dosed, and it can be dosed consistently — and you can know what’s in your medicine and how to take your medicine. You can have an understanding ahead of time what your side effects are going to be, or if there are going to be any.”

Weed the People is the second film directed and produced by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Their first documentary, The Business of Being Born, was released ten years ago, and explored American health care’s approach toward childbirth.

Lake, a former actress and talk-show host, started their most recent project after developing a social-media friendship with a young girl who was using cannabis for her cancer. Shortly after, Lake and her late husband, Christian Evans, learned that many children were using cannabis to treat their cancer.

The film also touches on research occurring in other countries, such as Spain and Israel — which brings us back to Weed the People‘s biggest unanswered question: Why is the United States government denying its citizens access to this medicine?

The Denver premiere, hosted by the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, brought cannabis advocates and businesses owners Larisa Bolivar, Jeri Shepherd and Keegan Peterson for a Q&A session after the film’s showing.

Peterson, founder of cannabis management software Wurk, is helping with the distribution of the film; he met the filmmakers a year ago after filming finished. “It’s the stories [like these] that are going to cross that barrier and build a bridge, and that’s why I have personally been so passionate about this film,” he said during the screening, explaining that effective documentaries can be a tool for cannabis policy reform.

Shepherd, a criminal defense attorney in Weld County who is also on Colorado NORML’s board, claims that most of what she sees while representing clients accused of cannabis crimes can be traced back to the failed War on Drugs. “It has everything to do with control.” She said. “I don’t see the insurance companies as advocating for a model of wellness — I see them advocating in conjunction with the pharmaceutical companies for corporate interest.”

Bolivar, founder of the Cannabis Consumer Coalition and boardmember of Colorado NORML, moved to Colorado in 2001 to grow cannabis for medical marijuana patients. After seeing her grow raided in 2004 and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Bolivar has fought for the rights of cannabis users and continues to care for several medical marijuana patients.

“It’s been a fight,” she said. “In the course of twenty years, I’ve seen so much. I have seen cannabis save lives and help people overcome cancer. There are a lot of unknowns, but I feel a renewed interest in fighting this fight because of this film.”

Weed the People is playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan’s Lake location every afternoon at various times through Thursday, December 13, and is expected to appear on Netflix in 2019.

Toke of the Town

Why the Denver Botanic Gardens Doesn’t Grow Hemp

The Denver Botanic Gardens spans 24 acres, with seventeen gardens showcasing plants that thrive in Colorado’s arid climate — and that’s only counting the main location on York Street. The Denver Botanic Gardens also runs Chatfield Farms, a 700-acre native-plant refuge and working farm in Jefferson County, as well as a conservatory for alpine plants and bristlecone pines on Mount Evans.

Those areas “reflect an ever-widening diversity of plants from all corners of the world,” according to the organization, while also focusing on local flora.

The reason for marijuana’s exclusion is understandable: The plant is still illegal federally, and the DBG doesn’t want to get caught up in a political mess. But hemp, which is legal to grow in Colorado under both state and federal law, thanks to 2014’s Farm Bill, is still left out of the mix.

A common crop centuries ago, hemp is a growing industry these days; industrial production has skyrocketed over the past few years, and much of that is taking place in Colorado. In 2016 and 2017, Colorado accounted for more acreage dedicated to growing hemp than any state in the country, according to the Vote Hemp organization, nearly reaching 10,000 acres last year. And with the introduction of high-CBD strains, hemp flowers can be just as visually striking as their THC-laden counterparts.

Despite Colorado’s quickly growing affinity for hemp, the DBG won’t be featuring the plant in its exhibits any time soon. A week of back-and-forth messaging with its communications staff didn’t net much elaboration.

“We do not grow hemp at York Street or Chatfield Farms,” explains communications manager Erin Bird. “Since we do not grow marijuana, it is natural that we would also not grow hemp. We have no plans of growing it at the Gardens.”

But while the DBG continues to ban hemp, other botanical institutions are starting to come around.

Last summer, the University of Colorado Boulder and the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists teamed up for an exhibit showcasing botanical illustrations of marijuana and hemp, with artist Susan Fisher even taking some hemp seeds home so she could try growing them. Fisher, who had a hard time persuading some of her colleagues to participate because of the stigma surrounding hemp and marijuana, says she understands why the DBG would abstain from controversy. “There must be huge controversy over how to interpret a hemp exhibit to the public. So many people go right to the [drug argument] without realizing this is different,” she explains. “It’s in the ‘it’s not worth the trouble’ basket. Too bad, to not get this useful plant back into cultivation, where it can do so much good.”

However, the DBG wouldn’t be the first botanic garden to grow marijuana or hemp if it chose to. In 2014, London’s Kew Gardens included cannabis as part of a mind-altering plants exhibit, while the University of Virginia and George Washington’s Mount Vernon have recently partnered to grow hemp on the founding father’s estate — just as George Washington himself was reported to have done.

Colorado industrial-hemp farmer Gabe Rimey says he loves and appreciates the DBG’s botany education, calling it “an incredible space to learn.” But Rimey, who farms high-CBD hemp plants in Douglas County, believes the DBG could educate visitors even further.

Gabe Rimey tends to his CBD-rich varieties of hemp inside his greenhouse cultivation in Franktown.EXPAND

Gabe Rimey tends to his CBD-rich varieties of hemp inside his greenhouse cultivation in Franktown.

Courtesy of Homestead Organics

“I have always wondered why they don’t grow cannabis or hemp for educational purposes. I’m not talking plots of it, but just a plant or two so that people can simply enjoy the botany of it. I mean, grow a high-THC cultivar and a hemp plant right next to each other, and no one would know the difference — but we could educate people on the selective breeding of the cannabis plant for certain cannabinoids,” he explains. “They’re growing hemp on Mount Vernon, so why not in an educational garden in the state that revolutionized the modern cannabis industry?”

Colorado isn’t the only state to welcome hemp; Oregon, Washington, Kentucky and Tennessee, among others, have all jumped into the hemp trade. We couldn’t find any botanic gardens in the aforementioned states that are growing hemp or marijuana (reach out if you know of one), but the plant’s exclusion could be part of a stylistic choice at botanic gardens that place heavy value on ornamental horticulture, according to Paul Cappiello, executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky.

“There are many botanic gardens out there that present exhibits and conduct research on economic botany or horticulture, and for those institutions, hemp is a natural. But for us it doesn’t fit very well within our mission,” he explains in an email. “Our display gardens are designed for maximum visual impact, and we focus on accomplishing that with plants that are highly sustainable — pest resistant, requiring minimal inputs (fertilizer and supplemental irrigation, etc.) — and showing excellent adaptability to our climate.”

Cappiello doesn’t totally dismiss the idea of adding hemp, though: “Now, if we came across a dwarf, red-leafed hemp plant with bright-yellow buds that didn’t seed around and was highly drought-tolerant…we’d be all over it!”

While DBG horticulturists don’t have any plans for adding hemp to their collection, they will teach you how to add it to yours. Educational classes on growing hemp were offered over the summer, Bird points out, with students learning over a six-hour course how to prepare hemp clones and care for them.

Will those courses be offered next year? The summer 2019 schedule for the Denver Botanic Gardens won’t be out for several months. Watch for updates.

Toke of the Town

That’s Entertainment! Denver Social Lounge to Welcome Vapers

Cannabis users in Colorado will soon have a place to call their own that promises unique entertainment and activities catering to the marijuana lifestyle. While most local ordinances for recreational cannabis use prohibit public consumption, a new cannabis entertainment model could be emerging with the recent approval of a cannabis social consumption permit for Vape […]

Utah campaign fundraiser on September 17 in Denver

Join us in Denver on September 17 for a fundraiser in support of the Utah medical cannabis campaign!

This November, Utah will vote on a medical cannabis ballot initiative (Prop 2). While most polls suggest that the initiative will pass, a strong opposition campaign has recently emerged. The Utah Patients Coalition — the campaign working to pass Prop 2 — needs your support. We anticipate a misleading opposition ad campaign over the next two months, and the Utah Patients Coalition needs resources in order to present voters with the facts.

So please join MPP’s Deputy Director Matt Schweich for a fundraiser in Denver on Monday, September 17 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. MT. Law firm Vicente Sederberg is kindly hosting an event at its office. I will provide a briefing on the campaign and answer your questions. Attendees are encouraged to make a $ 50 donation to the campaign. Contributions will be accepted at the door, or you can make them online.

WHAT: Briefing on the 2018 Utah medical cannabis ballot initiative

WHEN: Monday, September 17, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Vicente Sederberg, 455 Sherman Street, Suite 390, Denver

We look forward to seeing you in Denver!

The post Utah campaign fundraiser on September 17 in Denver appeared first on MPP Blog.

MPP Blog

Denver Weed Prices Are Low Compared to Those in Other Major Cities

We don’t blame you for complaining about inconsistent prices or expensive herb in certain parts of town, but one study shows that we don’t have it too bad in Denver compared to other cities with legal marijuana.

Wikileaf, a website that lists dispensary menus, deals and strain information, recently released data comparing the average price of legal dispensary buds (whether medical or recreational) around the country. While most of Wikileaf’s data compared the East and West coasts, it also ranked eight major cities according to how much an eighth of an ounce of weed costs.

Unsurprisingly, Baltimore ($ 53.70) and Boston ($ 48.30) came in as the most expensive, but numbers three and four for the priciest pot cities were San Francisco ($ 43.60) and Seattle ($ 37.90), both of which are in states where recreational sales are now legal (Washington almost as long as Colorado, and California since last year).

Relatively speaking, Mile High tokers should consider themselves lucky, according to WikiLeaf. The average eighth — or 3.5 grams — in Denver costs $ 32.10. The only city on the survey with lower prices was Portland, where an eighth runs $ 30.60.

Denver Weed Prices Are Low Compared to Those in Other Major Cities (3)


The fluctuation in prices depends largely on local supply and tax rates. Some cities in California have sales tax rates of nearly 40 percent after combining state and local taxes, and cultivators in that state are still struggling to get licensed, keeping the supply of marijuana in flux.

By comparison, cities in the Denver metro area are taxing retail marijuana sales anywhere from 20 to 24 percent, while an oversupply of wholesale marijuana has pulled down the average price per pound to $ 850 or less, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

If you’re planning a tourism trip around legal marijuana, WikiLeaf’s numbers suggest that you stick to the West Coast. States out west charge 22.5 percent less for weed on average than eastern states, the data shows. To be fair, however, only one state on the East Coast (Massachusetts) has recreational dispensaries up and running, and medical marijuana stores are much more limited east of the Mississippi, where no state other than Michigan has more than 100 dispensaries.

Toke of the Town

New Marijuana Nonprofit Incubator Coming to Denver

Many young cannabis entrepreneurs and companies are nurtured by Colorado’s pot-industry incubators, but nonprofits that focus on the plant haven’t received anywhere near the same attention.

Filing for federal tax-exempt status for a cannabis-related nonprofit tends to scare a lot of people away, so nonprofits haven’t seen the same windfall as cannabis entities in other sectors. The regulatory worries don’t end there, either, thanks to laws banning cannabis samples and consumption at public events and other strict regulations unique to legal pot. Even in Denver, pot nonprofits struggle to find a safe space in which to operate and grow.

To stimulate that growth, some of the original members of cannabis trade group Women Grow created a nonprofit to help others. “We found some holes within the community that we wanted to support and help,” explains Nuvolution co-founder Anne Marie Doyle. “We started with the idea of pairing skilled volunteers with nonprofits that needed support, but they’d have various roadblocks to complete their missions.”

Nonprofits wanting to help medical marijuana patients or pot consumers, fund scientific studies or educate the public about cannabinoid science can face challenges involving marketing, funding and other essential management responsibilities because of the plant’s Schedule I status, according to Doyle. So she teamed up with Twisted Sister Yoga CEO Shelly Jenkins to create Nuvolution in 2017, as a way to help cannabis nonprofits and socially minded businesses take off. 

The organization doesn’t help only cannabis entities; that’s just where most of its expertise comes from. “We wanted an affordable space for nonprofits to educate the community about cannabis,” Doyle remembers. “Whether it’s dealing with an illness or achieving a form of social activism, sometimes people need a little help with what they want to build.”

Nuvolution has been conducting most of its educational efforts in various restaurants and venues around town, holding its most recent gathering at the Cheba Hut on East Colfax Avenue. But a generous donation is about to take that show off the road.

The owner of a commercial building in north Denver has granted about 2,200 square feet of warehouse space to Nuvulotion and the nonprofits and businesses it helps, providing an incubation and event space where they can spread their canna-gospel. The property owner of 3835 Elm Street wishes to remain anonymous, Doyle says; the building also houses DANK dispensary and the pot shop’s growing operation.

The donated space shares the building with DANK dispensary, at 3835 Elm Street.

The donated space shares the building with DANK dispensary, at 3835 Elm Street.

Google Maps screenshot

The nonprofit incubator is still figuring out some of its next steps, but Nuvolution has already begun preparing the space as a “cannabis history museum,” Doyle says, and is planning its first open discussion at the space. Partnering with the CannAbility Foundation, it will bring in cannabis educator Dr. Regina Nelson to talk about how medical marijuana can help children; the event is expected to take place sometime in the fall.

“When the topic gets brought up, some people are thinking teenagers in the ’70s, lighting up joints in the bathroom to get high,” Doyle explains. “That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about kids who need it for medical reasons.”

In addition to discussions about industrial hemp and cannabis, the group plans to connect nonprofits with individuals who could benefit from their services, such as a cancer organization that provides patients with stipends that can be used to buy medical marijuana or other medications.

The space was donated rent-free for a year, Doyle says, and her team is still figuring out how to maximize its potential. Other possibilities include arts and crafts, yoga, meditation and other wellness-inspired activities and classes — but none of them will involve pot consumption, she stresses.

“A lot of people need help with the dialogue around [cannabis]. They need some CliffsNotes before starting this conversation, and that’s where we want to help,” she says. “Now that we have our own space, we can hold stuff during the day, evenings, and whenever we want.”

Toke of the Town

Denver Denied Her Pot-Infused Spa, but She’s Not Going Quietly

When Cindy Sovine submitted her application for a social cannabis consumption license to Denver in February, she was confident that her pot-infused spa would be approved. The health-care-turned-cannabis lobbyist had influential friends in the city and had even helped lobby for Initiative 300, the voter-approved measure that created Denver’s social-use licensing program in November 2016.

Her plans for Utopia All Natural Wellness Spa and Lounge in Capitol Hill called for educational seminars, cannabis-infused massages and medical treatments, support groups and a new ventilation system to make sure that neighborhood nostrils wouldn’t notice. Her business plan submitted to the city included letters of approval from five neighborhood organizations, four more than what Denver requires.

They weren’t enough.

Nearly four months after Sovine sent in her application for Utopia, it was denied by the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, which cited a distance requirement that prohibits cannabis-use areas from being within 1,000 feet of locations where children gather.

Sovine wasn’t about to take no for an answer, however, so the Utopia founder and CEO secured an appeal hearing with the City of Denver on Monday, July 23, in hopes of persuading a city hearing officer to overturn Excise and Licenses director Ashley Kilroy’s denial. “We’ve tried to work in good faith with the city, especially since this application has been done,” Sovine told the hearing officer. “I was very clear and transparent in discussing with them” the property’s location conflict, a matter of twenty feet.

Utopia’s proposed location is in a historic mansion at 1244 Grant Street, a little over 980 feet from the Third Way Center child-care facility. That technically violates the Denver rule stipulating that social-use areas must be 1,000 feet away from any school, city-owned park or recreation center, or drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Sovine leased a building at 1244 Grant Street, blocks from the State Capitol.

Sovine leased a building at 1244 Grant Street, blocks from the State Capitol.

Google Maps screenshot

Sovine says she attempted to talk with the city about a waiver before applying, but was told that no exemption could be made until an application was submitted. So she secured a letter of support from the Third Way Center, put “tens of thousands of dollars” into the property, and dove all in on February 7, when she submitted the application. According to Sovine, she subsequently received a to-do list of renovation and regulatory requirements, and she complied in hopes of receiving an exemption.

When Kilroy announced Utopia’s denial in May, though, the Excise and Licenses director made it clear she wasn’t keen on bending the rules. “We don’t issue a security guard license without a complete criminal background check, we don’t issue a license to a liquor store if it’s within 1,500 feet of another liquor store, and we don’t issue a special-event liquor license if it isn’t submitted within the appropriate time frame,” Kilroy said at the time. “It is not unusual for us to deny an application if it is incomplete or deficient.”

Frustrated by the surprise decision that she saw as an attempt to sabotage I-300, Sovine appealed Kilroy’s veto, taking her case to a city hearing officer. “I’ve spent every last cent of income I have on ventilation systems,” she told hearing officer Martin McKinney on July 23. “They accepted the application knowing there was a setback.”

Sovine’s claims were backed up by state senator Jack Tate, who told the hearing officer that he’d attended a meeting last September with Sovine and city officials to talk about the proposed application. According to Tate, the city seemed “happy to get an applicant,” which have been few and far between, and said he inferred that there “was a discretionary process” involved in consideration of an application.

The location setbacks weren’t part of I-300 as approved by voters; they were added later by Kilroy, after a task force set up by the city discussed how to implement the measure. Sovine says she thinks that if Kilroy had the power to add those restrictions, she should have the power to waive them. However, Assistant City Attorney Susan Cho told the hearing officer that it’s not that simple to step over the rules.

According to Cho, I-300’s language doesn’t mention that the Excise and Licenses director can use discretion in waiving the ordinance’s rules. She also pointed out that months of rule-making hearings and task force input were required before Kilroy finalized I-300’s final rules and regulations. (Another task force is currently evaluating the success and restrictions of the program, and can recommend changes to Denver City Council later this year.)

Ashley Kilroy, executive director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.EXPAND

Ashley Kilroy, executive director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.

Kate McKee Simmons

Denver Relief cannabis consulting co-owner Kayvan Khalatbari and cannabis attorney Christian Sederberg, drafters of I-300’s original language, both believe Kilroy has the power to waive certain restrictions, pointing to language that allows discretion for anything that would “frustrate the intent” of the measure. Sederberg even told the hearing officer that Excise and Licenses adopted the location restrictions “for the sake of efficiency” to line up with the city’s retail and medical marijuana dispensary codes, which call for similar setbacks in accordance with a federal directive from nearly eight years ago.

But the city considers the location restrictions a matter of safety, according to Cho — and safety measures wouldn’t frustrate the ordinance. “The fact that the Third Way Center has no issue is not something to consider” in connection with the location restriction, she argued. “Just because this applicant is unable to find a different place or has been working with the City does not negate the order of denial.”

Sovine, who is intent on keeping Utopia in Capitol Hill to serve the densely populated neighborhood, says the only location she’s found that meets the distance requirements isn’t an option because the landlord doesn’t want to lease the property to a cannabis lounge. She and her supporters were also quick to point out that Third Way Center neighbor Stoney’s Bar and Grill has an outdoor patio for alcohol consumption.

After the hearing ended on July 23, McKinney was given five business days to submit his recommendation to Kilroy. Both sides are allowed to object to any of the hearing officer’s conclusions, and then Kilroy has an indefinite amount of time to make a decision on whether she will accept or reject the hearing officer’s decision.

Toke of the Town