Tom Downey


PHONE 303-628-3639
CELL 303-520-1413
  • Biography
  • Insights
  • Presentations & Publications
  • Memberships
  • Community Involvement
  • Media
  • Firm News

Tom Downey is a regulatory attorney and shareholder at Ireland Stapleton with significant experience as both a government official and private attorney. Tom helps his clients navigate all aspects of regulatory law and is well-known for untangling complicated issues that are regulated by local, state, federal agencies. The majority of his practice consists of advising and representing corporate clients in the administrative, transactional, and disciplinary processes related to liquor licensing, legalized marijuana and professional licenses governed by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. Further, he represents investors, creditors, developers, intellectual property holders, and others in and around licensed industries. In providing full services to his clients, Tom conducts a great deal of zoning, code enforcement, election law/public policy work and represents governments and nonprofits around the country.

Previously, Tom led Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses, issuing and regulating 25,000 business licenses in Denver in 180 categories. During that time, he redrafted Denver’s Policies and Procedures for liquor licensing and wrote the original Policies and Procedures for Denver’s legalized recreational marijuana licenses. Governor Hickenlooper appointed him to advise the administration and General Assembly on the legislation creating recreational marijuana. He created and ran the Business and Licensing Division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. He also served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Business and Licensing Section under A.G. Ken Salazar. His higher profile cases included the Congressional Redistricting, State Reapportionment, the GAVEL Amendment and the Blue Book battles. The 2001 Congressional Redistricting trial was the most contested in Colorado’s history, as 30+ parties battled over the re-drawing of US Congressional lines with the addition of a 7th District. In Avalos v. Davidson, No. 01CV2897, slip. op. at 2 (Denver Dist. Ct. Jan. 25, 2002), the judge used Tom’s theory of the case that the winner of a major-party’s primary should not automatically be set to win the general election; that the “Majority of the Majority Rule” is bad for democracy. The proposal, adopted by the court, created three safe Republican districts, two safe Democratic seats and two seats, where non-major party/independents would decide who goes to Washington DC.

Additionally, Tom routinely teaches continuing legal education courses and gives other presentations on regulatory and licensing law around the country. He regularly sits on rulemaking committees for the Marijuana Enforcement Division and Liquor Enforcement Division.

Tom started his legal career clerking for Judge D. Warren Donohue on the Circuit Court of Maryland. During law school, he spent the summer of 1992 in Budapest as a consultant to a founding member of FIDEZ, the first opposition party in Hungary, in preparing to redraft their constitution. He worked for a Congressman prior to law school. Tom and his wife, Lori Fox, have three young daughters, Cate, Ella, and Meg, who are amazing singers and songwriters.



  • Colorado Bar
  • Colorado Supreme Court
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado


  • University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Business School Executive Program – High Impact Leaders (non-degree), 2009
  • J.D., Villanova School of Law, 1993, Vice-Chair, Villanova Law School Honor Board, Vice-President, Villanova Law School Women’s Law Caucus, President, Villanova Law School Rugby Club
  • Bachelor of Arts in Economics, College of William and Mary, 1989

Honors & Awards

  • Selected to Law Week Colorado’s 2018 “Barrister’s Best” list – People’s Choice for Marijuana Law
  • Selected to The Best Lawyers in America® for Regulatory Law
  • Selected to 5280 Magazine, Top Lawyer Marijuana Law ,2016-2021
  • Selected to Westword’s “Best of Denver”, award for customer service, 2013
  • Recipient of Denver 150 Unsung Heroes Award, 2008
  • Recipient of Mile High United Way’s “Anna Jo Haynes Care about Kids Award”, 2006
  • Recipient of Ballard Spahr’s National Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, 2002
  • Selected to Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, 2002
  • Recipient of Herman Mitchell Schwartz Award Recipient for the most significant contribution to the achievement of equality of opportunity and treatment for women in the legal community, Villanova Law School,
  • Recipient of Knights of Columbus Patriotism Award, 1983
  • “New Sports Betting Businesses: Rules and Regs for Operating in Colorado,” July 6, 2020
  • “Legalized Marijuana and Hemp/CBD: What Colorado Businesses Need to Know,” at name of conference February 25, 2020
  • “Fair Labor Standards Act Protections Apply to Employees of Marijuana Companies,” in name of publication, November 27, 2019
  • “Opinion: The Trump impeachment inquiry doesn’t begin to compare to the mayhem of the very first one,” in The Colorado Sun, Opinion Columns, October 13, 2019
  • “CBDooo or Don’t Nonprofits & Marijuana Philanthropy,” at Estes Park Nonprofit Camp, September 30, 2019
  • “An Overview of Legal Marijuana,” at Philadelphia Marijuana and Hemp Law Symposium, March 22, 2019
  • “The Future of RiNo Development,” at BusinessDen, February 19, 2019
  • “Opinion: Federal marijuana legalization may not be the dream scenario some imagine,” in The Colorado Sun, Opinion Columns, December 23, 2018
  • Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA)’s Art + Cannabis Forum, November 29, 2018
  • “Bankruptcy and State Alternatives for Marijuana Businesses,” at September 7, 2018
  • “The Enduring Manifestations of Prohibition,” at Cannabis Law Institute, September 7, 2018
  • Recreational Marijuana – The Impact of Federal Enforcement on Colorado, CLE Course, Colorado Law Institute, May 17, 2018
  • “Rescheduling Versus Descheduling – The Impact of Legalization,” at Colorado Law Institute, May 17, 2018
  • “US Attorney Jeff Sessions and Marijuana Policy – What Will It Mean for the Industry?,” at Colorado Law Institute, May 17, 2018
  • “An Overview of Legal Marijuana,” at Mesa County Bar Association Luncheon, April 23, 2018
  • “A Changing Landscape: The Federal Update,” at Pennsylvania Bar Association, March 16, 2018
  • “X-TEAM: An Overview of Legal Marijuana,” at X-Team Conference, February 8, 2018
  • Colorado Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee, Member
  • City Club of Denver, Member
  • Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Public Policy Forum, Member and Presenter
  • Marijuana Enforcement Division’s Licensing, and Permitted Economic Interest Stakeholder Work Group, Committee Member, August 2015
  • Governor Hickenlooper’s Amendment 64 (Recreational Marijuana) legislative advisory committee, Member, 2013
  • Denver Taxi and Limo Council, Chair, 2012-2013
  • Denver Medical Marijuana Working Group, Founder, 2011-2012
  • Governor Ritter Transition Team, Regulatory Agencies, DORA Committee Member, 2006
  • Mayor’s Leadership Team on Early Childhood Education, Committee Member, 2004-2006
  • I-300 Marijuana Social Consumption Area Task Force, Member

Tom strongly believes in engaging in our community. He took a break from government and legal work for five years to run the Children’s Museum of Denver. He is the Past Board Chair of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, and the former Board Chair of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. In 2000, Mr. Downey managed the Gore/Lieberman presidential campaign in Colorado. In 1986, he ran a children’s home in Venezuela, “La Ciudad del los Muchachos.”

  • Stapleton MCA Delegate (2018 – present)
  • Westerly Creek Metropolitan District, Board Member (Elected 2014 -present)
  • Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, Livingston Fellow (2007-present). Focus: creation of management theory, an execution model of Jim Collins’ Good to Great principles
  •  LoDo District, Board Member (2005–2017)
  • Emerging Leaders in Development program, Steering Committee (2010)
  • Colorado Nonprofit Association, Board Member (2006–2012, Chair 2008-2010)
  • Heritage 365 Magazine, Editorial Advisory Committee (2006–2009)
  • Nonprofit Resources, Inc., Board Member (2006–2008)
  • American Association of Museums, Co-Chair, Host Committee 2008 Conference
  • Denver Preschool Program, Board of Advisors (2007)
  • DPS Capital Needs Committee (2005–2007)
  • Colorado Children’s Campaign, Board Member (1998–2006, Chair 2004–2005)
  • DPS Citizens Committee on Bond Expenditures (2003–2005)
  • Citizens for Denver Public Schools (2003)
  • Leadership Denver (1999)
See all of Tom's Community Involvement

Cannabis and the Law: What Happens When Cannabis is Legalized in America?

February 3, 2021



Can Nonprofits Accept Donations from Marijuana Businesses?

January 2020



The Decriminalization of Hemp

December 2019