Marijuana shops not always so popular

Marijuana dispensary owner Tim Cullen talks to owners of antique stores along South Broadway in Denver about his proposal to rename the stretch of road 'The Green Mile'. (Kristen Wyatt, AP)
Marijuana dispensary owner Tim Cullen talks to owners of antique stores along South Broadway in Denver about his proposal to rename the stretch of road 'The Green Mile'. (Kristen Wyatt, AP)

Denver - The booming new marijuana industry has an image problem. Not with government officials and the public, but with other businesses.

From crime fears to smell complaints, new marijuana retailers and growers face suspicion and sometimes open antagonism from their commercial neighbours, especially in Denver, which now has 200 marijuana retailers and dozens of pot growing and manufacturing facilities.

It's a clash that is playing out in other communities in Colorado and Washington that allow marijuana businesses, and could stretch to other states now that Alaska, Oregon and Washington, have all legalised recreational pot.

The strife went public last week along a once-forlorn stretch of highway south of downtown Denver now sprinkled with marijuana shops.

About two dozen pot shops had a marketing idea for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Why not join forces with neighbouring antique shops to market the whole area as "The Green Mile"?

The pot shops called a meeting, expecting an enthusiastic response from neighbouring businesses. Instead, the suggestion unleashed a torrent of anger from the antique shops.

"We don't want to work with you", said James Neisler, owner of Heidelberg Antiques. "Your customers, they're the long-haired stinky types. They go around touching everything and they don't buy anything."

The meeting went downhill from there, despite the support from some neighbours.

The pot shops feel they've revitalised a blighted neighbourhood. Some tenants say pot has ruined a neighbourhood lined with storefronts that date to the 1940s.

Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado cannabis council, said his 30 or so members frequently clash with other businesses. In fact, his group was formed when existing chambers of commerce rejected cannabis-related members.

"They should accept us and embrace for what we've done, the jobs we've created and the tourists we bring", Warf said. "And yet some mainstream business organisations are still demonizing cannabis."

Jeremy Nemeth, chair of the department of planning and design at the University of Colorado Denver, helped craft Colorado land-use regulations for the marijuana industry. He said it's too soon for reliable data on whether marijuana shops depress property values. But preliminary studies indicate they don't attract crime.

Nemeth said local zoning regulations frequently force pot shops to already-depressed parts of town, where they join the likes of firearms dealers and pornography shops.

"Some might talk about these shops as a blight on our neighbourhood, and others might say, 'Really? They're worse than the empty doughnut shop and the vacuum repair shop?'" Nemeth said. "Are these new businesses really a bad idea? Or is it just a knee-jerk reaction? It's too soon to say."

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