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, or planning on hosting, unlicensed cannabis-related activities. The department recently believed that the Stoner Cinema Pop-Up was planning to hold an event featuring a cannabis-friendly movie experience featuring Grandma’s Boy (2006) at Dreams Aren’t This Good, an event venue (which is also a salsa-making facility).

According to EventHi, a cannabis-related event ticketing website, the Stoner Cinema Pop-Ups

Are private, invite-only events where “cannabis consumption is allowed.” These ticketed events are described as having 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 was founded by Nick Barreto and Josh Manary, who previously told Westword that their events are ticketed and private, which allows them to hold events without having 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 such events without a license.

Department Communications Director 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.

In response to the department letter, Barreto claimed that the most recent Stoner Cinema Pop-Up event wasn’t held at Dreams Aren’t This Good, although he could not confirm the actual location “because it was a private event.” A representative from Dreams Aren’t This Good also confirmed that the event wasn’t held at the venue. Escudero was not able to confirm if a department investigator actually attended the event, however, he did tell Westword that the letter still applied because the business was selling online tickets for a cannabis-related event.

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, whose business license was approved in March. “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 Social Club is not yet operating, and in order to do so 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 LoungePatterson Inn Hotel, the headquarters of Colorado Cannabis Tours) are awaiting approval for a hospitality license, but are experiencing a pause in progress while 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 LifeMarijuana MansionRooted Heart Yoga StudioVape LoftClubhouse CollectiveMeta Talent GroupColorado 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.

This article was edited on 8/28/23.

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