After Denver’s crackdown, weed bus companies gear up for a fight

“The city is pushing people to operate in unregulated, unsupervised spaces with no rules.”
4 min. read
Former staff members pose aboard a cannabis tour bus. (My 420 Tours/CC 4.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Denver has laid down the law for marijuana tourism companies.

Until now, the city largely ignored the smoky buses that haul stoned tourists between dispensaries. That changed on Friday, when police cited 31 tourists and employees aboard two company's buses for public consumption.

Now, city officials are explaining their actions -- and they're not leaving much wiggle room for the weed buses. In response, some of the companies are calling for changes to Denver's rules, and a potential fight in court.

Are they public or private?

That's the crux of the city's argument against these weed buses.

In one case, an undercover police officer was able to get aboard a bus without having to book it for a private party, according to Eric Escudero, communications director for Denver's Excise and Licenses.

"So it was public consumption, not private," Escudero wrote in an email to Denverite.

"They can’t lawfully allow consumption of cannabis while doing this for a publicly accessible ride. It has to be a private event such as a private bachelor for lawful consumption on the shuttle bus."

The city says businesses need a license for "designated consumption area" if they want to allow cannabis use -- and you can't get that for a vehicle.

But Michael Eymer, founder of Colorado Cannabis Tours, said that undercover officers signed forms for "a private membership" to get aboard his bus, arguably making it a private event.

He takes his argument back to the state constitution and Amendment 64, which created legal recreational marijuana. The amendment says that marijuana consumption is not allowed to be "conducted openly and publicly."

Eymer argues that his company is legal because the buses are highly enclosed, private areas, and he'll go to court to prove his point, he said.

There are few businesses where you can use weed in Denver.

So far, three businesses have applied for a license to host cannabis consumers under the city's new rules for social consumption. Only one business so far has the license, which means it can host vaping and edible use.

"The safest tactic for businesses operating marijuana tour buses is to not push the envelope between public and private and operate with caution," Escudero told Denverite.

"If marijuana consumption is an important part of their business model, we encourage them to apply for a DCA at one of the 9,000 locations we’ve found that are eligible for a license in Denver."

But cannabis advocates have said the rules are too restrictive. There are zoning restrictions and 1,000-foot buffers around schools, child-care centers and treatment centers. (Check out the map in this Denver Post article.)

"I don’t think people would use (the buses) as often as they do if we have another alternative. Until that happens, people should push for as broad a model as possible," said mayoral candidate and marijuana entrepreneur Kayvan Khalatbari. "There is nowhere else for people to go, and we need to get that fixed."

One of the companies, My 420 Tours, advertises a "wellness tour" in a "luxury consumption-friendly bus" that will take guests to a grow facility and dispensary for $99 each. Khalatbari argued that the buses provide a safe, educational place for tourists to use marijuana.

Khalatbari, who was a key proponent of social consumption, is now convening meetings about the issue.

"Is it legal action? Is it trying to work with city council?" he said.

Escudero said the city would "continue to value input" from residents and business owners.

Was there any warning?

Denver officials say they warned the bus operators in a letter before the 4/20 stoner holiday. But Eymer said that he responded to that letter with a legal justification, and that he was promised a response that he never received.

So far, police have targeted buses operated by My 420 Tours and Cannabis Tours Colorado. A third service, Loopr, ran without issue this weekend, according to its owner.

In Colorado, low-level public consumption comes with a fine of up to $100 and 24 hours of community service.

Correction: There was no bachelor party. That was part of a hypothetical comment by Escudero that I misunderstood.

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