“Marijuana sunset” is not a spiked drink. It’s the rule Denver just lifted to spur more pot lounges

“You get five drunk people together and they start a fight. You get five stoned people, they start a band.”

LoDo noir. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

LoDo noir. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

The clock is no longer ticking for Denver’s sparse marijuana club scene.

Only one place exists citywide where the general public can have a toke, even though voters allowed “social consumption” more than two years ago. There used to be two, but Vape and Play closed just after opening.

One reason for the city’s dearth, according to industry reps, is because of a rule that calls for an end to the temporary program in 2020.

The Denver City Council lifted that restriction Monday to make the landscape more business-friendly. City Councilman Kevin Flynn was the only no-vote, with Council members Rafael Espinoza and Stacie Gilmore absent.

“The sunset, I think it’s a no-brainer to repeal it,” said City Councilwoman Kendra Black, who headed a task force on rule revisions to the law, during a public hearing last week. “It’s not serving any purpose, it’s just hindering the ability for anybody to put a business plan together.”

Potential lounge owners have been pining to open social consumption businesses since it became legal, but they say the sunset creates an ambiguous business environment with uncertain financials and therefore uncertain investors.

Some industry reps offered stout support for lifting the sunset during a public hearing last week.

“Our investors cannot justify putting in money and faith into an industry that has this clause that effectively kills it before it has a chance to be born,” said Michael Polansky, the chief operating officer for Dean Ween’s Honeypot Lounge, which recently tried — and failed — to secure a license for a temporary venue.

The repeal is not solely aimed at making businesses money. Denver is a marijuana tourism destination with only one public, legal destination where people can use it. (It’s the Coffee Joint in La Alma/Lincoln Park.)

“People are using cannabis, just like any other substance, for a reason,” said Cindy Sovine, CEO of Utopia Wellness Spa and Lounge, a proposed social consumption site. “And if we can provide them safe spaces where we monitor in order to do this… this is actually the safest place that people can go.

“You get five drunk people together and they start a fight. You get five stoned people, they start a band.”

City Councilman Kevin Flynn voted to oppose the measure, but not because he agrees with the sunset. He doesn’t believe it will make a difference on its own, he said. He would prefer to see that rule change come before the council as part of a package of revisions that will encourage more social consumption spots.

The council will eventually consider changing other restrictions, like where they can exist. Right now, they’re not allowed anywhere near schools, daycare centers and rehab facilities.

Jesse Paris, who is running for an at-large city council seat, spoke against the repeal, citing gentrification concerns.

“Voters voted to make this legal and now Denver has become the Mile High income city where people come here to get high but cannot even afford to live here,” Paris said.

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