Unlicensed Cannabis events prompt crackdown by City of Denver

Unlicensed Cannabis events prompt crackdown by City of Denver

While legal social consumption lounges are still preparing to meet operation criteria, the Denver Department of Excise & Licenses is cracking down on unlicensed cannabis events.

The Denver Department of Excise & Licenses is continuing to serve warnings to event organizers who are hosting unlicensed cannabis-related activities. This past weekend on Aug. 19, the Stoner Cinema Pop-Up held an event featuring a cannabis-friendly movie experience featuring Grandma’s Boy (2006). The screening was held at Dreams Aren’t This Good, an event venue (which is also a salsa-making facility). These ticketed events offer free cannabis and novelty joints for attendees, which is paired with popular film screenings such as Half Baked or The Sandlot.

Stoner Cinema Pop-Up has been operating since 2022, and the events are ticketed and private, which organizers told Westword allows them to bypass city laws on social cannabis consumption, which requires a cannabis hospitality license.

The Denver Department of Excise & Licenses manages cannabis licensing, in addition to other licensing for residential rental properties, liquor, security services, alarm permits, and short-term rentals. According to the department, Stoner Cinema Pop-Up and other businesses like it are not allowed to operate events without a license.

Department Eric Escudero told Westword that neither Stoner Cinema Pop-Up or the Dreams Aren’t This Good venue have hospitality licenses, and that they’ve received a letter that’s “the equivalent of a warning letter” for holding unlicensed cannabis-related events. “It is a last resort for the city to take enforcement action,” Escuadero said.

While Denver’s cannabis hospitality rules were implemented in 2017, the city’s Department of Excise & Licenses has only approved one venue and three “mobile lounges” to be licensed and legal hospitality operators.

The licensed venue includes an upscale dining and consumption business, Cirrus Social Club, which is being built where a taekwondo studio once operated. “We’re going after a demographic of people who are not heavy cannabis consumers, but rather the out-and-about social person who’s older than 27,” said Cirrus co-owner, Arend Richard, told Westword. “If a date night for you is dinner and a movie, then it now becomes Cirrus and dinner. You come in, have a lovely sesh with us, and hear the jazz music in the background.”

Cirrus received approval from the Department of Excise & Licenses in March, but the business has not yet opened its doors. In order to open it must pass all inspections included in its operating plan, such as safety and ventilation, but it could take more than a year for those inspections to be conducted and approved. According to Westword, three more cannabis venues (Tetra Lounge, Patterson Inn Hotel, the headquarters of Colorado Cannabis Tours) are awaiting approval for a hospitality license, but are experiencing a pause in progress trying to meet city ventilation requirements.

The Coffee Joint is one exception. While it is the only operating cannabis lounge in Denver, it can only allow consumption of vaporizing and edibles on-site. Because temporary permits do not exist under the hospitality license regulations, this means that legally, Stoner Cinema Pop-Ups can only operate at The Coffee Joint, or one of the three mobile cannabis hospitality license holders. “There are three active licensed mobile hospitality establishment businesses that could potentially provide service to events if they provide the city the required route log and follow the rules as far as the 30-minute limit for parking and allowing consumption at one parking spot,” said Escudero.

In March 2022, Tetra Lounge was approved for a hospitality license, but won’t actually receive the license until all the criteria is met. The business originally opened in 2018 as a “private” cannabis venue, but the term has been the topic of discussion for years. The International Church of Cannabis took the city of Denver to court in 2019 in an attempt to redefine the term “private,” but no significant ruling was made.

In July, nine venues and event owners were targeted by both the Colorado Department of Excise & Licenses and Denver Police Department, who issued citations for permitting unlicensed cannabis consumption or organizing cannabis-friendly events. This included Ant Life, Marijuana Mansion, Rooted Heart Yoga Studio, Vape Loft, Clubhouse Collective, Meta Talent Group, Colorado NORML, and Psychedelic Club of Denver.

“Citations, fines and enforcement activity by the city and county of Denver are always a last resort after every effort has been made to educate businesses about licensing rules and regulations,” Escuadero said last month. “As part of that effort, the city has issued licensing bulletins detailing the rules for marijuana hospitality. This included information about if a marijuana business is conducting commerce, there is a requirement for licensing. We hope businesses that are operating marijuana hospitality without the city and/or state required license will take steps to get licensed.”

The Department of Excise & Licenses first sent out memos to cannabis business owners in January 2022 in regards to unlicensed consumption, however it didn’t begin to enforce this until this summer.

Meanwhile in Nevada, the state’s first conditional cannabis consumption licenses were awarded to Planet 13, Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, and The Venue at SoL Cannabis in June, followed by LA Loung LLC at the end of July.

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Region: Colorado

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