To smoke or not to smoke? Platt Park residents will weigh in on a proposed controversial marijuana shop and consumption lounge

Josh Horwitz wants to open Cloud 9, The Denver Weed Lounge, but some neighbors are burned out.

The old Habibi Hookah Cafe spot on South Broadway in Platt Park. April 6, 2022.

The old Habibi Hookah Cafe spot on South Broadway in Platt Park. April 6, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Desiree

To be or not to be? That’s the question Platt Park neighbors will be asking themselves when they help decide whether a proposed so-called marijuana hospitality business will be allowed in their neighborhood.

Petitions are circulating Platt Park for and against Cloud 9, The Denver Weed Lounge, a proposed marijuana shop seeking to open in the neighborhood at 1800 S. Broadway, on the corner of East Colorado Avenue.

According to Eric Escudero, the communications director for the Department of Excise and Licenses, it’s the first establishment to apply for a license that includes both the consumption and sale of marijuana.

Cloud 9 will be operated by Josh Horwitz, a real estate agent who was inspired to enter the marijuana business because of his father, Steve, who passed away in November 2020.

Steve Horwitz started Ganja Gourmet in 2009 and was one of Denver’s first marijuana infused food sellers. On-site consumption became illegal the following year, and eventually, Steve Horwitz turned Ganja Gourmet into a medical and recreational dispensary. But Josh Horwitz says the desire to own a consumption lounge was always on his father’s brain.

“His dream of having a fun restaurant where you can get high while eating food ended,” Josh Horwitz said. “Owning a dispensary wasn’t his future goal. He was passionate about cooking and homemade ingredients and recipes with infused marijuana. He was a big personality New Yorker. He was a big foodie and a big pot head, as well.”

When Horwitz found out Denver passed new marijuana regulations that included hospitality licenses for on-site consumption, he said he knew he could continue his father’s dream. He applied for a hospitality license through the social equity program. According to Escudero, Horwitz qualified because he or a family member were previously arrested for a marijuana offense.

Horwitz was approved and ready to move forward.

The old Habibi Hookah Cafe spot on South Broadway in Platt Park. April 6, 2022.

The old Habibi Hookah Cafe spot on South Broadway in Platt Park. April 6, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

But some neighbors aren’t interested in having a consumption site nearby, especially since the business previously located at 1800 S. Broadway made some residents feel like they were in hell, not cloud nine.

The Horwitz family owns the corner lot, which houses three buildings. There is Ganja Gourmet and Heady Glass Emporium. Then there was Habibi Hookah Cafe.

Habibi’s wasn’t owned by the Horwitz family, but it was a tenant at 1800 S. Broadway and for about two years. Neighbors said Habibis brought chaos to the block.

“That property is under a nuisance abatement,” said Jolon Clark, who represents the area on Denver City Council. “For about two years, there were a whole host of problems. The property owner and the business owner refused to remedy those problems. The business owner was ticketed for selling to minors. There was gun violence. I have constituents nearby who have bullet holes in their home. So the city had to step in and close that business down and put a three-year abatement plan on the property.”

The way a nuisance abatement works is, if the rules aren’t followed, the city can step in and fully shut the business down.

Habibi’s is now permanently closed, but Clark said the memories of Habibi’s are still fresh for plenty of neighbors who believe that Cloud 9 will bring the same chaos.

Marijuana grows in The Clinic's warehouse in Denver's Overland neighborhood. Tubes running across the ceiling carry carbon dioxide. March 19, 2021.

Marijuana grows in The Clinic's warehouse in Denver's Overland neighborhood. Tubes running across the ceiling carry carbon dioxide. March 19, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Residents reached out to Clark, and his office is spearheading one of the opposition petitions.

“There’s a lot of lost trust between the neighbors and the property owners,” Clark said. “A lot of the frustration is how can we trust this property owner who didn’t say, hey, I’m going to open a clothing store or a coffee shop or something to prove to the neighbors that I can manage this property safely. I can be a good neighbor. Instead, they went to another license type that allows him to be open until two in the morning with inebriated people. The neighborhood didn’t feel like that was fair. There was no communication… and so there’s no trust that this won’t just continue to be a nuisance.”

While the issues bubbled over at Habibi’s, the Horwitz family was grappling iwth Steve’s death.

According to Josh, his father was sick toward the end of his life, and after he passed the family had to work on the estate. Messages sent to his father weren’t received, and when Horwitz was notified, he said he was all for the abatement to help remove Habibi’s from the property.

Horwitz and Clark both noted that Cloud 9 would be under different regulations than Habibi’s. Hookah lounges previously were allowed to stay open through all hours of the night. A bill sponsored by Clark that passed in November limits hookah lounge hours.

With all licensing, there will be a public hearing for nearby residents. Cloud 9’s hearing is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 11, and also Thursday, May 12, if necessary.

Councilman Jolon Clark listens during a Safety, Housing, Education, & Homelessness Committee meeting discussing expanded powers for the Office of the Independent Monitor, Jan. 16, 2019.

Councilman Jolon Clark listens during a Safety, Housing, Education, & Homelessness Committee meeting discussing expanded powers for the Office of the Independent Monitor, Jan. 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“For two years, we had meetings with about 60 to 70 neighbors trying to figure out how to get some level of sanity back,” Clark said. “I’ll be opposing this license. I think this is an inappropriate use at this location. After what the neighborhood went through, I think it’s time to earn back that trust and show you’ll be a good neighbor.”

Horwitz said in recent weeks, he’s gone door to door, speaking with neighbors and explaining why the Horwitz’s may have seemed like absentee landlords. He also said he wants to be more neighborhood-oriented, and one way he’ll do that is by selling food from local vendors. He said he also wants to hire nearby residents to work at the shop, including those from the LGBTQ community and people who were disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

Horwitz said that he doesn’t intend to stay open until 2 a.m. and will instead close at midnight. He intends to install new security cameras, guards and brighter outdoor lights to make the environment as safe as possible.

“My goal here is to make the neighborhood feel comfortable…there’s so many great retail places and I want this to be their favorite,” Horwitz said. “I’m the new owner now and I want to be part of the community. Hosting neighborhood events and block parties. One of the complaints with the last tenant was that he was not part of the community…I want neighbors to know I’m the opposite. I want to be a great neighbor.”

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