Marijuana Equity and Social Justice

Denver developed a multi-pronged approach to ensuring that communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs can benefit from the legalization of marijuana. Mayor Hancock's Cannabis Social Equity work includes exploring a variety of tactics including the continued use of marijuana tax revenue to support low and moderate-income neighborhoods, obtaining data related to the marijuana industry, vacating low-level marijuana convictions and identifying areas of need in workforce development and licensing ownership and entrepreneurship, including a cannabis equity project for the distribution of new licenses, such as hospitality and delivery as well as the removal of barriers in the marijuana licensing process for existing licenses. 

Progress and Plans

What has Denver Accomplished so Far?

Denver is taking a large share of marijuana tax revenue to address marijuana equity issues - and addressing holistically - not assuming one size fits all when addressing ills of 50-year war on drugs.  To date, Denver’s multi-pronged approach has included:

Turn Over a New Leaf Program

  • Denver created a free program to clear and seal low-level marijuana convictions. 
  • 538 applications for Denver’s free Turn Over a New Leaf Program have resulted in 85 convictions being identified as eligible for the program.  (number as of 07.07.20 - for updated numbers, please email us at
  • Denver held 5 clinics and invested more than $25,000 in City resources to create the program, staff clinics, and promote the program through community outreach, media relations and digital communications.

Stakeholder Engagement

  • Denver has convened a diverse group of volunteers to gather community and marijuana industry input on the City’s long-term plan to support a highly successful social equity program.
  • Denver met with over 300 people to learn different perspectives and hear thoughts on the Marijuana 2020 work plan.
  • The Office of Marijuana Policy convened a Marijuana Licensing Work Group, composed of social justice advocates, marijuana industry, community representatives and other stakeholder to advise on policy decisions. 

Best Practices

  • Denver is the only known city in America hosting a national marijuana regulator conference with a panel dedicated to social equity.
  • Government regulators and law enforcement will share ideas and successes in helping those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Through a public RFP process, Denver commissioned a study examining the diversity of the Denver cannabis industry, the need for a social equity program to increase equitable ownership and employment opportunities and decrease disparities for marginalized communities, as well as address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs, this study was published on June, 2020 and can we found on our webpage(PDF, 2MB), and it will be used as one of the resources for policy decisions under the Marijuana 2020 Work Plan.

Marijuana Tax Revenue

  • A portion of marijuana taxes helped Denver double affordable housing fund from $15 million to $30 million to build more than 6,000 units.
  • $9.3 million of the funds dedicated to affordable housing in 2019 are from Denver’s special recreational marijuana tax.
  • From 2015 to 2019 the City has dedicated more than 10 million dollars from Denver’s special sales tax on recreational marijuana, to fund free after-school and summer programs for youth, with a focus on underserved communities. This education funding also includes support for diversion programs, with a high focus on high-need areas in Denver.
  • Marijuana tax dollars are helping to upgrade parks and recreation centers in Denver, including the opening of Denver’s first truly urban style recreation center called the Carla Madison Recreation Center in 2018. Funding for this recreation center included $3.2 million from marijuana tax proceeds.


What are the Plans for the Future?

  • Continue using marijuana tax dollars to help people who were disproportionally impacted by the war on drugs and marginalized communities in general.
  • Decrease barriers to entry in the marijuana industry by exploring financial, technical, and criminal justice support.
  • Identify opportunities with new and opening marijuana licenses to ensure more diversity in the marijuana industry and its ancillary business.
  • Create a workforce development tool for those interested in beginning a career in the marijuana industry that would allow for training and professional development.
  • Explore ways to help close the gap for minority/ women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) who wish to enter in the marijuana industry as well as attract, retain and expand MWBE business.
  • Insert marijuana in Denver’s trade missions, allowing promotion of industry investment on a national and international level.

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Contact the Marijuana Information Office

Webb Municipal Office Building
201 W. Colfax Ave., Dept. 206 
Denver, CO 80202 
Fax: (720) 865-2881

For additional information,
visit the Business Licensing website.

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