How lobbyists and panicked Denverites kept liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries open during coronavirus – The Denver Post


Denver Mayor Michael Hancock reversed himself twice on March 23 when he ordered residents to stay at home to prevent spreading the coronavirus sweeping the country.

Had he stuck to his instinct, the mayor could have avoided hours of intense lobbying from residents, small-business owners, industry advocates and politicians, all of whom urged his administration toward the city’s ultimate conclusion: Liquor stores and recreational marijuana shops should be considered essential and remain open during Denver’s stay-at-home order.

Instead, Hancock double-checked during his afternoon news conference when asked by a reporter about the two types of businesses.

“As far as the liquor store and I am concerned, yes, very essential,” Hancock said with a laugh, but he looked to a city attorney for guidance, asking her to the stage.

“I don’t want to give the wrong information, but I think we’ve allowed them to continue operating, particularly for medical marijuana,” Hancock said of dispensaries.

Seconds later, Marley Bordovsky, Denver’s director of prosecution, looked into the camera and said neither liquor stores nor recreational marijuana shops were considered essential and they would close the next day under the mayor’s order.

“That’s exactly what I was going to say,” Hancock said as he reclaimed the microphone.

With that, the phones started ringing and a large lobbying effort mobilized. Conducted outside the public’s view, its goal was to keep hundreds of stores open, thousands of Denverites employed and entire industries functioning across the city.

“We have a lobbyist, we have people on the ground, and we were able to text (Hancock’s) chief of staff,” said Jeanne McEvoy, president and CEO of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association. “One of our legislators from Denver called me and said, ‘This is crazy. I’m going to text the mayor right now.’ ”

That lawmaker, Rep. Leslie Herod, a

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