Federal Blvd is likely getting another cannabis dispensary. That in and of itself isn’t particularly newsworthy as there’s almost two dozen in North Denver, but the story behind the most recent license is unlike the existing stores and the first example of future license applications.
When it opens early next year, Social Cannabis will be the first dispensary licensed under the social equity guidelines intended for applicants who may otherwise have been barred from the industry. The cannabis industry has often been criticized for being dominated by monied, sometimes out-of-state, interests and for leaving behind those who were harmed by the war on drugs; the new guidelines are intended to help give others a chance.
In order to receive a license under the social equity guidelines, applicants must meet one of a number of criteria. The biggest is that they or a family member had a marijuana conviction, which formerly barred many applicants. They can also come from neighborhoods disproportionately negatively impacted by drug laws or come from a low-income background.
Josh Riggs, one of the heads of Social Cannabis dispensary, talked with The Denver North Star about a time in his life he hasn’t spoken about much before. 21 years ago he was an 18 year old freshman at the University of Northern Colorado. There, he had a marijuana related charge that cost him a scholarship and resulted in him leaving college. He never thought he would have the chance to work meaningfully in the marijuana industry but believes the new guidelines give him and his co-workers that opportunity.
“We’re the lucky ones in a weird way,” said Riggs. “There’s so many people who have been harmed more by the war on drugs.”
Social Cannabis’ owner, Dan Kenji Hatsukami Morgan, spoke at their September 8 license hearing, explaining that, like Riggs, he also had a run-in with the law as a young man that he’s worked to overcome. He received a minor in possession charge in 2010 for less than 1 ounce of marijuana in Wyoming. When legalization occurred in Colorado, he started off at the bottom of the industry: making $9/hour, trimming plants, rolling joints, and scrubbing pots. He was working his way up, but, even post legalization, that old marijuana charge made owning a dispensary a near impossibility.
Riggs said he and his colleagues are hoping to be good business partners on North Federal Blvd. Their plan is to hire largely from within the community, especially others who meet the social equity criteria. “We understand how hard it can be, if you’ve been incarcerated or been arrested for marijuana, to get a good job.”
He noted they didn’t just pick North Denver randomly — their team has ties to North Denver, including one of the heads of the company attending school in the neighborhood growing up. They also selected an area of North Denver that does not have another dispensary in close proximity, which they felt was important.
As part of their community outreach, the Social Cannabis team met with neighborhood groups, collected signatures of support from neighbors, and are planning on setting up an annual charitable giving program including a $10,000 scholarship. That approach has earned them good will and trust from their registered neighborhood organization and others, several of whom spoke at their hearing.
“The Chaffee Park Neighborhood Association is excited to welcome Social Cannabis, the city’s first Social Equity Licensed dispensary, to our neighborhood- especially since they have such deep ties to our community,” said Jason Hornyak, head of the organization. “We believe that the Marijuana Social Equity program will help to right some of the historic wrongs of the War On Drugs, so we are happy to see it happening in our backyard. The owners of Social Cannabis have so far gone above and beyond with outreach and engagement, and we look forward to years of excellent community partnership with them.”
Trupti Suthar, president of Sunnyside United Neighbors Inc, also spoke due to the dispensaries proximity to her neighborhood, echoing many of Hornyak’s comments about how the owners were proactive in their outreach, wanting to get feedback from the community before they moved forward.
While Social Cannabis may be the first to receive a Social Equity license, they certainly won’t be the last. This city is reserving almost all new licenses for Social Equity applicants, including applicants for a new type of license that will allow for what are essentially marijuana bars. Currently, there’s almost no legal options for marijuana users to consume in a public setting. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use has mostly been restricted to private residences. The new businesses will allow customers to use on site, which is considered important for marijuana tourism and locals who wish to partake with others outside of private homes.
Social Cannabis plans to open early 2022 at 5068 Federal Blvd, assuming their license is approved. Their hearing was on September 8 and while a final decision was not available when this issue went to press, there were no opposition speakers and the city attorney’s office also did not oppose the application. You can also find them online at www.TheSocialCannabis.com