Court Overrules City, Forces It To License Dispensary

Ed Andrieski/AP Photo
A caregiver picks out a marijuana bud for a patient at a marijuana dispensary in Denver in a file photo.
Photo: Marijuana buds July 2015
Dried marijuana buds at a Colorado grower.

For the first time in Colorado, a court has overturned a local decision to deny a license to sell recreational marijuana. But the owner of the Pig ‘N Whistle dispensary in Denver says the delay still cost him millions of dollars in lost sales.

Last year, Ross Vaisman, who owns the medical pot store, was sure he’d be granted a license to sell recreational pot. Neighbors raised concerns, however, and city staff subsequently denied the license. (Read the original Excise and Licenses denial here).

Vaisman fought the denial through the courts for months. Eventually a district court judge ruled Vaisman had fulfilled his legal requirements, the dispensary was not a danger to safety and public health, and should get a license.

But his attorney Tom Downey, with the firm Ireland Stapleton, says the city then decided the store would be subject to a new, tougher public process called a Needs & Desires hearing.

“Well we didn’t want to have to jump through another requirement when we had passed everything, right?” says Downey, who was the former director of Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses. “Imagine you’re applying for your driver’s license, and you go through the test, and they say, ‘Hey, you know what? We’ve added new questions. Do you want to take the test again?’ Well, of course not.”

This week, Denver District Court Judge Catherine Lemon agreed, saying the city cannot retroactively add hurdles to existing applicants. (Read the judge's decision here.)

Downey says the city had no other options, and, after 15 months, finally issued the license after the ruling was handed down Thursday.

A city spokesman says regulators were merely responding to serious neighborhood concerns, and letting due process play out.

The decision could impact at least half a dozen other pot stores awaiting approval – where the city is requiring a retroactive Needs & Desires hearing.

Vaisman is happy about the court’s decision, but estimates he missed out on more than $3 million in potential sales.

“Not only did we lose revenues, we lost momentum,” says Vaisman. “We had to tell [recreational pot] customers to go someplace else.”