Recreational Marijuana Begins in Aurora, Colorado

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Based on the financial success Denver has experienced with the legalization of marijuana, a neighboring sister city is starting the process of launching its own retail recreational industry.

"The city council of Aurora, Colorado spent more than a year coming to some reasonable regulation and have decided that they are going to allow a total of 24 retail marijuana stores in our city and then growing operations can occur in industrial parts of our town," said Kim Stuart, director of communications with the city of Aurora.

Known as the city where a gunman opened fire in a movie theater during a midnight premiere of the "Dark Knight Rises" two years ago, Aurora stands to gain financially and is preparing for a booming recreational market by setting clear boundaries.

"Anybody who is applying to sell marijuana here needs to have a state license first," Stuart told MainStreet. "Dispensaries need to be located away from schools, hospitals and substance abuse facilities and reasonable distances from our neighborhoods."

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.

"In fiscal year 2012 to 2013, tax revenue was $326 million, but this year it will be more than $500 million," said Tae Darnell, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law. "There's a significantly positive impact as a result of regulation."

With its 350,000 residents in tow, Aurora is being selective about the marijuana businesses it allows into its communities by requiring a pre-application conference.

"Aurora had the benefit of being on the sidelines and watching the entire process roll out," said Meg Sanders, a dispensary and grow facility owner in Denver who is applying to operate marijuana businesses in Aurora. "Their thorough and extensive licensing process is to ensure they are getting the best of the best."

A pre-application meeting is a step that Sanders doesn't recall having to attend in Denver.

"Denver is dealing with an existing industry and is trying to put it back in the box," said Sanders, who participated in a pre-licensing meeting in Aurora just last week in which representatives from the police and building and planning department were present. "It has taken Denver city officials a while to get their arms around the retail industry, because they are dealing with after-the-fact clean up in getting existing dispensaries regulated."

During a pre-application meeting, Aurora city officials discuss some of the requirements the city expects from marijuana businesses related to security, parking and lighting.

"We have worked hard to stay true to the will of Colorado voters and regulate recreational marijuana use like alcohol," said Crisanta Duran, an attorney and Democratic state house representative. "One of the issues we are concerned with is the distance of dispensaries from schools and where a lot of kids congregate. It's an issue reviewed by zoning at the local level."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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