The Impact of Recreational Marijuana Use on a Denver Neighborhood

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Emick's Auto is a car repair shop on Jasmine Street in Denver that services both Asian and American vehicles right around the corner from Gaia Plant-Based Medicine, a marijuana dispensary. Owner and mechanic David Emick prefers having the dispensary as a neighboring business because of the regulation that exists in the legal marijuana industry.

"There are laws against loitering in front of dispensaries," Emick told MainStreet. "I see a lot of loitering in front of liquor stores, but nobody ever hangs around Gaia. Customers are in and out and on their way."

The estimated 275 dispensaries that exist in Denver are largely located in lower income areas, according to a recent study released by the University of Colorado in Denver. But residents don't perceive the presence of a dispensary as undesirable.

"I get contacted on a daily basis from people looking for a job and wanting to come to work," said Meg Sanders who owns Gaia Plant-Based Medicine on Colfax Avenue along with three other retail stores in the city and a growing facility at the corner of Holly Street and 39th Avenue, which employs eight full time cultivators as well as biologists, horticulturists and mechanical and aerospace engineers to produce 300 pounds of cannabis a month.

In addition to creating jobs, marijuana dispensaries appear to have positively impacted the city financially.

"We continue to see increases in tax revenue from recreational sales," said Crisanta Duran, a state house representative who chairs the joint budget committee. "Medical marijuana licenses have increased by 3.8% and last months' tax revenues from recreational marijuana increased by more than 10%. Overall, there's been an upward trend."

So far since January, the state of Colorado has raked in about $11 million in sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana, according to statistics published in June by the Colorado Department of Revenue. The total for recreational and medical marijuana taxes and fees combined is about $18 million.

"At the state level, we focus on how to invest recreational marijuana tax dollars, school construction and keeping marijuana out of the hands of children," said Duran, whose office is located on the same avenue as Gaia Plant Based Medicine. "There are multiple ways to address these issues at the state and local level."

Denver has issued more than 300 sales-tax licenses for dispensaries.

"What we've seen in Colorado since regulation is a 3% drop in teen use, a 25% reduction in the availability of cannabis on school grounds and a drop in traffic fatalities," said Darnell, an attorney who specializes in marijuana law. "We've also seen crime drop in neighborhoods with dispensaries in them. It's across the board."

That may be partly a result of healthy distancing of dispensaries from schools by Denver city officials as well as state funding of public awareness campaigns.

"Five million dollars is going towards advertisements to educate the public about the use of marijuana," said Duran who chairs the joint budget committee. We've also invested money in school prevention programs and $40 million will go to school construction. We are trying to regulate in a reasonable fashion according to the will of the people of Colorado."

Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, was a ballot measure for which 55% voted yes and 44% voted no on November 6, 2012. Those who voted against Amendment 64 reportedly claim marijuana is addictive and is damaging to children because it permanently affects brain development, impairs learning ability and contributes to depression.

Following in the footsteps of Denver, sister cities such as Aurora are taking great care to plan their retail market in advance to minimize any negative impact marijuana sales could have on their neighborhoods.

"Anybody who is applying to sell marijuana here needs to have a state license first," said Kim Stuart, director of communications with the city of Aurora, which is located about half an hour from Denver. "Dispensaries need to be located away from schools, hospitals and substance abuse facilities and reasonable distances from our neighborhoods."

Although the short term impact of a dispensary on the community may be better than a liquor store, the long term effect on the people of Colorado and their children remains to be seen.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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