Denver Adopts Final Social Use Rules, But Obtaining A Permit Will Not Be Easy

Author: Jeff Wilson, Esq.

On June 30, 2017, Denver adopted final rules for Designated Consumption Area (“DCA”) permits, the final step towards rolling out the three-year social use pilot program approved by voters in 2016. The city intends to begin accepting applications for DCA permits by August 31, 2017. Application and permit fees will cost $2,000.

A DCA permit will allow a qualifying business or special event to allow on-site cannabis consumption, though permittees may not sell or provide cannabis for any type of compensation or allow cannabis sales on site. DCAs will only be open to adults 21 and older who produce valid ID. Permittees allowing smoking will face stricter requirements than those allowing only vaping, and permittees allowing only edibles, topicals, or other methods that do not produce odors will face the least stringent requirements.

All DCAs will have to comply with the city’s location restrictions prohibiting a DCA from being within 1,000 feet of, or located at, any school, child care establishment, alcohol or drug treatment facility, or city-owned recreation center or outdoor pool. In addition, DCAs cannot be at a location with a liquor license (unless the liquor license is deactivated and liquor is not being served), on any public or city-owned property, or in a residential zone district.

Due to the mixed-use nature of Denver’s urban hotspots, these substantial location restrictions appear to make many areas ineligible for a DCA, even in districts where voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative. Consequently, the city could face litigation because the initiative required that additional rulemaking “not frustrate the intent of this ordinance to permit all types of businesses or events that otherwise meet the requirements of this article to receive a cannabis consumption permit.” With cannabis-friendly areas like RiNo, South Broadway, and East Colfax potentially excluded altogether, there is an argument that the city overstepped its authority.

In addition to a complete application upon the forms provided by Denver Excise and Licenses, applicants for a DCA permit are required to submit:

  1. Operating plan
  2. Employee training plan
  3. Waste plan
  4. Community engagement plan
  5. Floor plan
  6. Odor plan (if smoking or vaping is allowed)
  7. Description of how the DCA complies with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act (
  8. Evidence of support or non-opposition from a registered neighborhood organization
  9. Zone use permits
  10. Approvals from other applicable city departments (such as Fire, Community Planning, or Environmental Health)
  11. Proof of possession of the premises
  12. Criminal background checks for all owners

Additional requirements may apply on a case-by-case basis. Businesses seeking a DCA permit will be subject to a public hearing, whereas a DCA permit for a special event does not require a public hearing unless at least ten interested parties request a hearing.

Given these extensive requirements, it is highly encouraged that anyone seeking a DCA permit consult with a licensed attorney prior to applying. The rollout of this program will be watched closely by the rest of the country and perhaps even the world.