Smoking marijuana joint cannabis pot

Colorado cafés, restaurants, hotels and cannabis dispensaries could soon carve out public spaces for marijuana use alongside pot sales under new state legislation.

But what does that mean for Denver -- the city with the highest concentration of recreational marijuana retailers in the state and its own active social consumption program?

The state’s so-called “hospitality space” measure would allow dispensaries and certain other businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, to establish designated public spaces for cannabis consumption.

While recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012, consumption has been prohibited in public spaces, leaving many state visitors will limited opportunity to consume cannabis.

However, under the state bill, pot dispensaries could be licensed to set up tasting room-style spaces alongside sales areas, and hotels, cafés, restaurants and other businesses could establish lounges of sorts for on-site cannabis consumption and some limited sales.

Just as they do with dispensaries, cities and towns could chose to ban hospitality spaces.

The legislation, House Bill 1230, passed the state legislature and is now on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk for final approval.

“It creates a pathway forward, not just for existing licenses or permit holders of social consumption or hospitality spaces, … but for a more meaningful statewide proposal,” Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said Monday in a briefing for Denver City Council members on the new state legislation.

Denver has its own social marijuana consumption licensing program for businesses (not covering retail outlets) which would be grandfathered in, should the new state legislation become law, Troy Bratton, Denver deputy legislative counsel, said during Monday’s briefing. That means, Denver could continue with its own program and require businesses to seek licensing through the city or opt in to the state’s program once rules are established, or require both.

“The marijuana hospitality establishments are similar to the social consumption law [in Denver],” Bratton said. “The bill specifically grandfathered those in. It allows a city that already has it to add a requirement to get state licensure, but we don’t have to.”

For dispensaries, Denver would have to create an additional program for licensing, and proprietors would be required to obtain both local and state licensing, Bratton said.

Cannabis retailer tasting rooms would be a new addition to Denver’s marijuana landscape, but other businesses could be left to contend with the city’s existing social consumption licensing program.

Under House Bill 1230, an exemption to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act would be created -- the state law that bans smoking of cigarettes in indoor public spaces -- Kelly said. Denver’s program may be similar with the state’s proposal, but in contrast, the city’s social consumption law allows for no such clean-air exemption, limiting marijuana consumption to edibles, vaping and dabbing of cannabis products.

The city’s social consumption program has long been criticized for its rigorous permit requirements -- just two city businesses have successfully obtained a license under the program, and one shop closed very shortly after receiving its permit.

As Denver announced its cannabis social consumption application process, it became apparent the elaborate hurdles for marijuana-friendly shops had the potential to slow the process and/or discourage applications.

For example, social consumption establishments in Denver are not allowed to set up in shops that serve alcohol. They also must stay 1,000 feet away from places frequented by children like schools and playgrounds -- twice the distance as liquor stores -- and must receive the blessing to open in the area from neighborhood groups.

Denver’s first and only current business licensed for social cannabis consumption licensed, the Coffee Joint, opened in March 2018 in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black said during Monday’s briefing that officials have already heard from dispensary owners who have expressed interest in allowing for consumption on location, through the proposed state legislation.

Under the state hospitality space bill, new licenses would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, giving state and local officials time to promulgate the program’s rules, Bratton said.

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