March 05 2014

Is Legal Marijuana a Problem for Urban Planners?

On November 6th, 2012, the state of Colorado became one of just two U.S. states to legalize the recreational sale of marijuana with the passing of Amendment 64. The first stores to sell marijuana legally officially opened for business on January 1st, 2014. According to an e-mail from a City of Denver spokesperson, there are currently thirty-seven businesses licensed to sell recreational marijuana, in addition to citizens having the ability to grow up to six plants in private for their own consumption.

Marijuana sales are nothing new to Denver. The state of Colorado has allowed medical marijuana for more than ten years. When I moved to Denver in May 2012, I felt there were more medical marijuana retailers than Starbucks. And as it turned out, that was true. There are more dispensaries than liquor stores, Starbucks coffee shops, or public schools in Denver.

Map showing where medical and recreational marijuana is sold in the United States
Map showing where medical and recreational marijuana is sold in the USA

But recreational marijuana may present unique problems for urban planners in Denver.

Frosted windows conseal the interior of this medical and recreational distributor in Denver, Colorado, USA

Frosted windows conceal the interior of this medical and recreational distributor in Denver

Financial institutions are weary of dealing with marijuana retailers, forcing most marijuana suppliers to deal in cash. Institutions are weary for fear of drug and money laundering status, because recreational marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. This has created an obvious safety issue as criminal gangs hone in on these new retail locations known to have plenty of cash on hand. Due to the legalization of the plant, there has been some up-tick in marijuana-related crime. Why would someone rob a convenience store and walk away with maybe $100, when you could rob a pot store and run away with tens of thousands of dollars?

The economic development opportunity of legalizing marijuana is obvious. Amendment 64 asks all pot sales to be taxed—heavily—at 12.9%. Reports suggest over $600M in tax revenue is expected across Colorado in 2014. There is even a booming recreational marijuana tourism industry.

Financial institutions are weary of dealing with marijuana retailers, forcing most marijuana suppliers to deal in cash. Institutions are weary for fear of drug and money laundering status, because recreatioanl marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.  This has created an obvious safety issue as criminal gangs hone in on these new retail locations known to have plenty of cash on hand. Due to the legalization of the plant, there has been some up-tick in marijuana-related crime. Why would someone rob a convenience store and walk away with maybe $100, when you could rob a pot store and run away with tens of thousands of dollars? The economic development opportunity of legalizing marijuana is obvious. Amendment 64 asks all pot sales to be taxed—heavily—at 12.9%. Reports suggest over $600M in tax revenue is expected across Colorado in 2014. There is even a booming recreational marijuana tourism industry.
But the prospect of having businesses provide significant economic good to a community through the sales of a product historically sold in back-alleys and in under-the-table exchanges is a perplexing problem for planners, in addition to the safety issues.

Right now, the City of Denver regulates marijuana shops similar to other adult uses like adult video stores and liquor stores. As stated by a City of Denver spokesperson, Denver recreational marijuana retailers are not allowed to be located in residential zone districts and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools, child-care facilities, and alcohol or drug treatment facilities. Other than those restrictions, recreational marijuana shops have no additional land-use regulations over regular retail establishments.

Can urban planners create land-use schemes and opportunities around something that used to be illegal? Could pot shops be used for economic development? Does urban planning have an obligation to explore opportunities for creating better neighborhoods using pot shops? What problems have your cities dealt with in preparation for proposed legal marijuana laws?

Credits: Images and Edited Map by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tycoon" as a child: always fascinated in how complex things in the built environment worked; how they fit together; and why people feel certain ways in different environments. He has worked in sustainability, regional planning, and school planning. He is a professional freelance photojournalist and has been published in national, regional, and local publications. Upon graduation, Jonathan followed his dreams of living near the Rocky Mountains and moved west to Denver, Colorado. At some point during his time at The Grid in 2014, he will have climbed all 58 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado--a 12-year journey completed! Jonathan will be blogging about innovative urban planning, transportation, and housing projects occurring in the Denver region as it seeks to be a world-class city for businesses and people.

Website - Twitter - Facebook - More Posts

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 at 9:38 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Content, Jonathan Knight, Land Use. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Share

2 Responses to “Is Legal Marijuana a Problem for Urban Planners?”

  1. Raghu Krishnan Says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of legalizing marijuana. I think we’re behind on this and alcohol has been the only legal recreational drug for far too long with too many injuries and fatalities in every age group whether self inflicted or inflicted upon others. That being said, I’m happy Colorado and Washington are enjoying the new found freedom. And in the near term there will be at least another handful of states joining them. With an abundance of medical marijuana institutions already in place and now the state law allowing recreational use the number of stores has dramatically increased. Will these states become the “farms” for cultivation of marijuana supplying the rest of the country? Or will the number of stores stabilize and level off as people realize there’s too much competition between each other and go back to being entrepreneurial in other ways. And when will that happen. There are a million and one ways to “flavor” marijuana and it’ll end up being like the frozen yogurt craze so that every pioneer feels entitled to a piece of the pie. This is going to get in the way of city planning unless permits/licenses become limited in each city like a liquor license at a bar. Once that happens, then planning can be scheduled much better and be more creative. BUT…there will always be a conservative population of entrepreneurs or corporations that will not want to set up shop anywhere near a drug company. It’s their vision that being around marijuana is a dangerous element and will provoke criminal activity like gangs seeking out large amounts of cash, which marijuana stores tend to keep. Independent store owners who set up shop next to a ganja store may not be able to afford security measures to feel safe and chain stores are most likely of the conservative mentality not to set up shop anywhere near a dispensary in the first place. So how will city planning work? I’m sure over time the tide will change and planning will successfully revolve around marijuana stores. But what about the here and now, especially with the drug still being illegal at the federal level? It’s a good question being posed and I’m curious about how cities will evolve around the new recreational drug in town.

  2. Jonathan Knight Says:

    Hi Raghu, thank you for your comments. You made some excellent points and, I think, some valid arguments.

Leave a Reply


7 + five =

 

Follow US

Categories