Only two Denver businesses have applied for social marijuana consumption licenses so far

Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy says 13 businesses or potential business entities have inquired about a DCA license, but only Utopia and The Coffee Joint — which got its license in February — have applied.

Allan Tellis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The future site of Utopia, the marijuana-friendly spa, March 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The future site of Utopia, the marijuana-friendly spa, March 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Utopia, a health and wellness spa hoping to open at 1244 Grant St. in Capitol Hill, is the second business to apply for a designated consumption area (DCA) license, which would allow on-site consumption of marijuana in the form of edibles or vaping. (By law no smoking is allowed indoors.)

While a spokeswoman for Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy  said that 13 businesses or potential business entities have inquired about the DCA license, only Utopia and The Coffee Joint — which got its license in February — have applied to be eligible consumption locations.

Although many businesses have expressed interest in the license both officially and in sentiment, hurdles on the way to obtaining it have left many would-be participants on the sidelines.

“There’s a lot of stuff you have to get through,” said Cindy Sovine-Miller, owner of Utopia. “Denver’s been really responsive.”

Sovine-Miller said she learned that she must do some re-working of her building plans to comply with the Department of Health and Safety before she can move forward to the next step of holding a public hearing, but has found the application process relatively smooth and received support from registered neighborhood organizations Capitol Hill United Neighbors and The Shire of Capitol Hill.

She said city government was supportive and cooperative in the process, something she hopes will be true for other potential applicants going forward.

“Once you get people more familiar with how it works and how it operates you take away the fear of the unknown,” she said. “That’s really the goal to create a usable path for other businesses going forward.”

The Coffee Joint next to I-25 in Lincoln Park, Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The Coffee Joint next to I-25 in Lincoln Park, Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

So why aren’t more businesses rushing to apply for a social consumption license?

Jim Norris, the owner of Mutiny Information Cafe on South Broadway, was also interested in a social consumption license — but in the end didn’t want to sacrifice certain qualities of his current business model and shelved the idea.

Norris said that Mutiny’s combination bookstore, arcade, coffee shop and record store attracts a lot of youth, and that he didn’t want to pursue the licensing, which requires age restrictions for customers, over providing what he calls safe space for the teens — an especially easy decision because he didn’t foresee marijuana consumption boosting revenue for his business in a big way.

Mutiny Information Cafe owner Jim Norris among his bookshelves, March 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Mutiny Information Cafe owner Jim Norris among his bookshelves, March 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)His landlord had reservations about the process, too.

Norris said he doesn’t anticipate a large number of businesses viewing obtaining the DCA license as a profitable venture in the near future. He added that he thinks the perfect storm of circumstances necessary to obtain the DCA license devalues the statement Denver voters made by passing I-300 and does a major disservice “to small and weird local businesses” who he feels should also prosper from the city’s booming marijuana industry.

Not only must business who wish to obtain a license be 1,000 feet away from schools and childcare facilities and not in a purely residential area, they also need a clientele that wants to bring its own consumables — remember, businesses holding a DCA license are not allowed to sell or provide marijuana.

“Small business should be able to profit off of the decision Denver voters made,” Norris said. “In their infinite wisdom, the city has managed to take what Denverites asked them for and give them something completely different.”

He remains hopeful, however, that other businesses will obtain the licensing and continue to move marijuana culture forward to the place he believes Denver residents would like it to be.