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How to Get a ‘Social Marijuana Use’ License in Denver

August 25, 2017

On November 8, 2016, Denver voters passed Initiative 300, which directed city officials to create a four-year pilot study for what would be the United States’ first social marijuana consumption program. Such a program would allow Denver businesses and event planners to apply for licenses to allow public consumption of cannabis at everything from yoga studios to coffee shops to street fairs.

Since then, city officials have worked to bring the pilot study into existence while citizens have fretted over specifics. “Will the newly adopted regulations for the first-in-the-nation ‘social use’ program provide measured protection for patrons and neighbors of businesses that take part, as city officials say?” asked the Denver Post on June 30. “Or are the rules for consumption areas so restrictive that few businesses and event organizers will want to bother?”

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This week Denver officially opened the application process for “Designated Consumption Area” licenses. To answer the Post’s question about whether the rules will protect communities or repel applicants, it appears to be a little from column A and a fair amount from column B.


For those interested in applying for a Designated Consumption Area (DCA) license, here’s your non-exhaustive to-do list.

Complete Your Application

This may seem like a no-brainer until you realize that a “complete application” includes:

  • A criminal-history records check conducted by the FBI for the applicant AND anyone who owns 5% or more of the entity being proposed to host the DCA
  • A red-lined floor plan showing the location of the designated consumption area within the business
  • Proof that the DCA complies with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act
  • A valid zone-use permit and recent certificate of occupancy for the host venue
  • “Evidence of community support”—specifically, a letter of support (or at least non-opposition) from an eligible neighborhood association, which is defined as “a registered neighborhood organization as defined in the Revised Municipal Code that has been in existence for more than two years”
  • A “responsible operations plan” including a detailed explanation of how employees will monitor and prevent over-intoxication, DUI, underage access, and illegal distribution of cannabis
  • A documented employee-training program addressing all components of the aforementioned responsible operations plan
  • A “community engagement plan” as defined in the Denver Revised Municipal Code
  • An “odor control plan” as provided in the Denver Revised Municipal Code
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Honor the Proximity Restrictions

“No Permit shall be issued within 1,000 feet of any school, child-care establishment, any alcohol or drug treatment facility, or any city-owned recreation center or city-owned outdoor pools,” read the rules, so confirm and document your proximity distances along with your application. Also off-limits for DCA licenses: Any location with a liquor license, and any licensed marijuana establishment. (Which means bars and dispensaries must stay out of the social-smoking game for now.)

Narrow Your Social Dabbing Dreams

The guidelines specifically forbid the use of propane torches at any Designated Consumption Areas, so if you’re going to allow dabbing, it will have to be done with an e-nail.

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Have Money

Every application must be accompanied by a $1,000 application fee.

Good luck, Denver applicants! We’re rooting for you!

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Dave Schmader

Dave Schmader is the author of the book "Weed: The User's Guide." Follow him on Twitter @davidschmader

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