Pot ranger roams Denver for smoke violators
DENVER — Ben Siller looked ridiculous on a recent afternoon, standing on a downtown Denver street corner with a giant device clamped to his face sniffing the air for odorous evidence of marijuana.
“What are you doing?” asked Jimmy Smith, owner of a marijuana dispensary.
In the dawning age of legal marijuana in Denver, the city is getting more and more complaints about the unmistakable odor wafting through the streets — a skunky, herbal scent that has prompted dozens of calls to the city’s hotline.
That’s when Siller with his Nasal Ranger device jumps into action.
An investigator with the Denver Department of Environmental Health, Siller for 26 years has been looking into odor complaints. They can range from smoke from a kitchen to industrial odors.
Siller will bring his device to the area and sniff the air, determining whether the odor violates the city odor law. Rarely does that happen.
“It has to be a very strong odor,” Siller said.
The pungent odor of marijuana plants or even secondhand pot smoke won’t violate the odor law, which is determined by volume. A violation occurs after the odor exceeds the 7-1 ratio, when one volume of odor is detectable with seven or more volumes of clean air, which is rare. Odors would have to be pretty strong — an industrial-level aroma, like what would come from an ill-managed rendering plant.
Marijuana smoking or grow facilities won’t reach that level, Siller said. Most grow facilities have ventilation systems and filters to prevent odors from escaping, even when marijuana cultivation is at its stinkiest during the harvest times, said Smith, owner of Higher Expectations.
Siller also advises warehouses to be good neighbors and try to reduce the odors as best they can, even though they are not breaking the law.
The investigations are not limited to marijuana.
People called in successive complaints about a wood-burning pizza restaurant, which was cited and later put in a system to reduce the smoke.
Also, residents regularly complained about Kasel Industries, which makes pig-ear dog treats. The city gave Kasel a $500 citation for nuisance odors, and the company turned around and sued the city. The cases were later dropped, Siller said.
As far as marijuana, complaints began coming in a few years ago from people saying they were smelling a new odor in the city, mostly around industrial areas.
From January to September, the city received 85 odor complaints, 11 related to marijuana. Last year, there were 288 odor complaints and 16 were marijuana-related.
The Denver City Council last month presented a list of proposed rules about marijuana possession and consumption that would have prohibited even the smell of marijuana smoke coming from private properties, but that measure is still being debated.
“I thought, ‘Uh-oh, we are going to start getting calls,’” Siller said.