Mar 23, 2022 - News

Denver's cannabis and common consumption programs aren't catching on

Illustration of hand holding offering a bag of money to another hand, which is refusing the offer.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Two plans Denver is pushing to boost businesses' bottom lines aren't drawing much interest.

State of play: No marijuana tasting rooms or common alcohol consumption zones have opened since the city legalized both last year.

  • Tetra Lounge on Monday was the closest to reaching the licensing finish line. The private pot club in RiNo could have its marijuana hospitality license approved just in time for 4/20, Excise and Licenses spokesperson Eric Escudero tells Axios Denver.
  • Meanwhile, openly carrying cocktails and other boozy beverages around common areas won't be a reality until the tail end of 2022 — at the earliest, Escudero says. That's because no business has filed an application, and the approval process will take between six and nine months.

What they're saying: Numerous factors are hindering business owners from pursuing the new permits, including pains from the pandemic, labor shortages, skyrocketing inflation and a lack of federal relief funding.

  • "Very busy operators [are] working with fewer staff under stressful conditions, with little extra time for applying for things like common consumption area licenses," Nicholas Hoover at the Colorado Restaurant Association tells Axios Denver.
  • Other obstacles include the city's permitting process itself, which requires operators to meet strict restrictions and requirements before applications are approved.

Of note: The city has limited marijuana hospitality licenses over the next five years for "social equity applicants," who have lived in low-income neighborhoods and have been subject to minor cannabis-related arrests.

  • But social equity applicants say a restrictive zoning rule that bans marijuana businesses from being within 1,000 feet of each other or closer than 1,000 feet to schools, day care centers, recreation centers or drug treatment centers, is hindering their ability to break into the industry.

What to watch: Patterson Inn could be the next business approved in the coming months for a marijuana hospitality license, Escudero says.

  • If given the green light, the facility would allow guests to consume cannabis from a lounge adjacent to the hotel.

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