As Colorado Jumps Into New Marijuana Businesses, Boulder Stays Still

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Despite Boulder’s crunchy reputation, the town is sitting on the sidelines as municipalities across Colorado unveil plans for new forms of marijuana businesses going into 2021.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s connection to the 4/20 holiday has long since fizzled out, but the town heavily voted in favor of recreational pot legalization in 2012, and there has since been 152 business licenses issued for marijuana cultivation, dispensaries, extraction labs and other operations in the town, according to the state Marijuana Enforcement Division. Boulder also had a head start in medical marijuana delivery thanks to a decade-old ordinance allowing medical marijuana delivery long before the practice was legal at the state level in 2020. However, there are concerns within the marijuana industry that Boulder’s progression has come to a halt as new marijuana opportunities appear across the state.

Before dispensaries, grows, home-delivery services, social consumption lounges and other marijuana business can pop up in Colorado towns or counties, their respective local governments must opt into them first. Boulder City Council, like Denver’s, calls on a committee of local stakeholders for advice on all cannabis policy changes, including which state-level changes the city will adopt. But compared to Denver’s cannabis advisory board and other local governments around the state, the Boulder Cannabis Licensing Advisory Board has moved slowly.

“I mean, who voted for cannabis legalization and wouldn’t be excited to use cannabis in a high-end dining setting and explore options beyond alcohol?” asks Alana Malone, co-owner of Boulder based cannabis concentrate company Green Dot Labs, and one of six current members of the CLAB.

Aurora City Council approved recreational cannabis delivery in December, and Denver’s advisory board released an extensive list of recommendations for marijuana delivery, hospitality and other license types the same month. Elsewhere, city councils in Dillion and Glendale have both opted into marijuana hospitality, as did the board of county commissioners in unincorporated Adams County. Longmont and Superior, neighboring towns of Boulder’s, recently legalized medical marijuana delivery, and their respective town councils hinted at exploring recreational delivery in 2021, as well.

Boulder, on the other hand, isn’t close a council vote on marijuana delivery or hospitality, as the CLAB has yet to draft any recommendations on the issues. On December 7 — the same day Aurora City Council voted on recreational pot delivery — the Boulder advisory board was split, 3-3, on whether or not to recommend the creation of local recreational marijuana delivery permits.

Since its inception in May, the CLAB has made recommendations for only two policy changes: an update allowing dispensaries to carry hemp-derived CBD products, and a technical change regarding marijuana concentrate production; meetings have focused on nine guest speakers covering a total of seven topics.

“We have a lot of community stakeholders on the line who have been wanting to know where [new policy changes] are going to go for years,” Malone says.

The marijuana business owner was president of the advisory board, but stepped down in November after public criticism from residents during board meetings that questioned Malone’s conflicts of interest. “Unfortunately, we are just not making progress in our conversations, because we’re having to continuously manage and respond to strongly worded mischaracterizations of who we [the marijuana industry] are,” she explains.

But some of Boulder’s marijuana advisors would rather extend the conversations surrounding marijuana delivery and hospitality, and believe the town would benefit from a more patient approach. Robin Noble, a community-at-large board member who joined to represent Boulder residents with negative marijuana experiences, says having tighter rules is worth the extra time.

According to Noble, her teenage son developed cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), a condition triggered by regular pot use that causes extreme nausea and vomiting that often lands patients in the emergency room. After learning more about the potency of some legal marijuana products, Noble says she felt a responsibility to take part in local rulemaking so Boulder didn’t further normalize marijuana.

“My son just didn’t believe his diagnosis. He kept pointing at the green crosses and saying ‘Mom, look, this is medicine this is what people use when they’re feeling sick’,” Noble remembers. “On the one hand, we treat marijuana in ways that normalize and even glamorize it — and then on the other hand blame parents for not overcoming the messages.”

CU-Boulder information sciences professor Brian Keegan, one of the two education and health seats on the board, agrees that the taking the longer approach has been useful, penning an op-ed in the Colorado Sun that criticized Colorado’s marijuana delivery law, and warned businesses against embracing it. Keegan’s research at CU-Boulder has centered on how culture and data inform public policy. Although he fills one of the board’s education seats, he sees himself more as a bridge between data and policy.

“I think I hold the education seat, and maybe the council had a different view that this would be held by a school teacher or something like that, although I do serve as a university professor as well,” Keegan says.

Boulder’s first rendition of a marijuana advisory board was more specific with what roles the members would fill, calling for a CU-Boulder representative, a Boulder Public Schools representative, three marijuana industry representatives, a public health and safety representative, and a local Chamber of Commerce representative. The less prescriptive nature of CLAB requires seven total members comprised of two industry members, two members with “a connection to the health or education field,” and three members from the community at large.

Also on the board are Ashley Rheingold, a representative of Boulder-based dispensary chain Terrapin Care Station, as well as former CU-Boulder health services director Dr. Tom Kunstman, and Michael Christy, a Boulder attorney and former Judge Advocate General Officer in the United States Air Force.

Having an even amount of CLAB members puts the board in peril of more gridlock, according to members. (Rick Muñoz, a local medical marijuana patient, stepped down from the board in November and moved away from Boulder, citing his opposition to a temporary ban on gatherings fo eighteen to 22-year-olds to quell the spread of COVID-19).

Between the November and December meetings, Boulder City Council asked all six board members to answer the same three questions: What about the board has made the board happy this year? What has made the board sad this year? And what does the board look forward to in 2021? The majority of members mentioned Muñoz’s departure as a disappointment over the past year, and several others lamented the lack of progress and direction the board has made.

The CLAB will continue meet on January 4 to revisit the vote on delivery recommendations, but the board’s even number will remain in place. However, the CLAB hopes to meet in person after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, and plans to fill Muñoz’s vacant seat in the near future.

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