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A Look Back At The Shortest Prohibition In Denver History

Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver.
KUNC Photo Illustration
Source Photo: Paul Sableman / CC BY 2.0
Argonaut Wine & Liquor in Denver.

The year was 2020. The city: Denver, Colorado. But the problem... prohibition.

At a press conference a little over a year ago, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the closure of non-essential businesses due to new COVID-19 precautions. And among those non-essential businesses were liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries.

What resulted was a two-hour prohibition panic. Alcohol sales went up 300%, marijuana lobbyists called city hall nonstop, and lines of people outside liquor stores and dispensaries circled the block.

As we celebrated April Fools' Day, we took a look back at the time when the people of Denver were fooled into thinking they would have to go through quarantine without alcohol. Although this brief prohibition took place in the year 2020, KUNC’s Alana Schreiber makes us feel like we’re back in 1920. She spoke with Westword reporter Conor McCormick-Cavanagh and Argonaut Liquor co-owner Ron Vaughn about the shortest prohibition in Denver history.

Listen here:


The following interview highlights have been edited for length and clarity.

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh: When Mayor Hancock organized that press conference, a lot of people were pretty nervous about what was going to happen and folks were pretty on edge about what was going to be shutdown... So the question I asked at the press conference was: "So dispensaries and liquor stores, are they considered essential?" I didn't really know what to expect with the question in terms of how Hancock was going to answer it. I definitely wasn't joking, even though the mayor and those around him thought I was joking... And I definitely did not anticipate the outcome of the question and answer in terms of the chaos that ensued.

Alana Schreiber: When Mayor Hancock confirmed that liquor stores and recreational marijuana dispensaries weren’t essential, there was a mad dash to these stores all across the city. Folks were desperate to get their hands on a bottle of jack or an ounce of sour diesel before the shops closed up.

Ron Vaughn: All of a sudden people started coming in and we looked outside and there was a line. So we had a discussion about how do we control this situation going on? So we ended up having the people at the door. One in and one out became the rule. There was a line around the building. There was a news helicopter flying overhead. People were literally freaking out, coming in with boxes for things they probably didn't even drink, they just were afraid they weren't going to be able to get out.

Schreiber: The mayor’s plan had overlooked one grave factor. People wanted their liquor and they wanted their pot. After two hours of chaos, Mayor Hancock had seen enough. There was only one thing left to do.

McCormick-Cavanagh: The mayor said, hey, we did this, we made a mistake. Let's just reverse this right away. Clearly, people consider these two businesses to be essential. And so that's what they ended up settling on after just a few hours. Just before 5:00 p.m., they came out with social media posts saying liquor stores and pot shops are now essential again.

Schreiber: Looking back, Conor seems to have learned an important lesson.

McCormick-Cavanagh: We all have our vices and we're pretty attached to them. So when we feel like someone is trying to curtail our ability to access our vices, we get pretty anxious. So that was all pretty funny. But looking back on it, I really had no idea that me asking this one question would set all that panic in motion.

Schreiber: But then again, nobody’s perfect.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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