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Denver launches new cannabis entrepreneur program for social equity applicants

Posted at 2:57 PM, Jul 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-05 10:08:12-04

DENVER – The City of Denver’s Department of Economic Development and Opportunity is launching a new program designed to boost marijuana business ownership among social equity applicants.

The City defines social equity applicants as individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.

“We're partnering with a local business, a local organization called the Color of Cannabis, to provide a training program, a technical assistance program, for those entrepreneurs looking to get into this industry,” said Chelsea Rosty, Denver Department of Economic Development and Opportunity chief of staff. “This will provide a training program for them that goes through everything from funding to regulations to marketing to challenges within the space.”

The Cannabis Social Equity Technical Assistance training will include 10 weeks of curriculum and cover topics like history, politics, compliance and best practices.

To qualify, applicants must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. Resided for at least 15 years between the years 1980 and 2010 in a census tract designated as an Opportunity Zone or Disproportionate Impacted Area; or
  2. The applicant or applicant’s parent, legal guardian, sibling, spouse, child, or minor in their guardianship was arrested for a marijuana offense, convicted of a marijuana offense, or was subject to a civil asset forfeiture related to a marijuana investigation; or
  3. The applicant’s household income in the year prior to application did not exceed 50% of the state’s median income as measured by the number of persons in the household.

“We're really trying to create a level playing field, because quite frankly, this has been an industry dominated by white, privileged individuals,” Rosty said.

Rosty says the City will use $500,000 from cannabis tax revenue to fund the training, and hopes to serve 100 entrepreneurs over the life of the program.

The deadline to apply is Friday July 15 by 5:00 p.m.

Shanda Le Compte, owner of Canna Couriers, a Denver-metro marijuana delivery business, participated in a similar 10-week program through Color of Cannabis.

“I think it's a fantastic program. It teaches you everything from your business licensing, your pitch deck, everything you need to get your business started,” Le Compte said. “I think that that's the main thing that applicants need is the resources to move forward in the industry.”

But Le Compte says even with the training, breaking into the industry has been challenging.

“We've been licensed for over a year now, and we're not working, delivering anything,” Le Compte said.

Denver city leaders were hoping reserving all marijuana delivery licenses for social equity applicants like Le Compte and requiring dispensaries to partner with them to provide delivery would open the door for more social equity applicants to enter the industry. But according to city leaders, many dispensaries lack interest in these partnerships.

“I think the biggest battles that we face are financial,” Le Compte said. “We are your everyday people just trying to follow our dreams.”

Le Compte says training is great, but additional resources are needed.

“I think the state needs to help open up those jurisdictions that aren't allowing delivery of cannabis, because Denver is saturated. You can go to any block and go to a dispensary, you know, but there's people who live outside of Denver, such as Arvada or Westminster, or Parker, so many cities around us that don't have that access. That's where we would benefit,” Le Compte said.

Le Compte says for a Colorado industry that made $2.2 billion in sales in 2021, more access to funding would also be helpful.