Cannabis hospitality establishments may be a long ways off in Boulder

Deborah Swearingen, Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.
·4 min read

May 4—If the hours of discussion during Monday's Cannabis Licensing and Advisory Board meeting are any indication, there is no real consensus about whether Boulder should allow cannabis hospitality establishments within the city.

After hours of public comment and board discussion, the CLAB opted to take additional time to consider whether it might one day recommend that Boulder City Council pursue the idea of social consumption businesses in Boulder.

Cannabis industry workers and users on Monday argued that it's much safer to provide a regulated space for people to gather and smoke socially, while others said hospitality establishments may glamorize cannabis consumption for young people and said there are air quality and public health concerns to consider.

The idea of cannabis hospitality establishments was made reality in 2019 when a bill allowing such businesses passed through the State Legislature. However, local governments are required to opt into the licensing program. Any social consumption businesses would have to apply for a license through Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Additionally, those businesses would be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, a state law that bans public indoor smoking. This was a big point of concern for many of those who spoke during Monday's meeting.

Among those who testified during the public hearing was Chris Sherwin, a Boulder resident and a member of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Sherwin said he played a central role in the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and believes allowing cannabis hospitality establishments would weaken the law.

"The bottom line is that secondhand smoke is secondhand smoke, whether it is coming from a cigarette or marijuana," he said. "What it really boils down to is everybody ... has the right to breathe clean indoor air."

Gretchen Smith, who works in Boulder County Public Health's Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, echoed many of those sentiments.

"The city of Boulder has historically been one of the first communities to ensure clean air for its residents by passing and implementing comprehensive smoke-free policies," Smith said. "We are concerned that allowing marijuana hospitality establishments would be a step back in these protections."

But for those in support of cannabis hospitality establishments, it's not that simple.

Stella Spanu, a Boulder resident and University of Colorado Boulder graduate, said she hopes to one day open Stella's Lounge, the first Italian restaurant in Boulder to serve cannabis instead of liquor. Spanu views her potential business as a safe space for people who are 21 or older to enjoy cannabis while eating authentic Italian food.

While several people who spoke in public comment worried cannabis hospitality businesses would glamorize smoking, Art Way, a drug policy consultant, argued it could do the opposite.

"If we can normalize the culture of alcohol, which from a public health perspective is far more damaging to the body and society than marijuana will ever be, I think we'll be able to figure out how to normalize marijuana," Way said. "And I actually think the more we normalize it, the more we take away the countercultural aspect of it that made it so popular in the first place."

As public comment concluded, board member Michael Christy questioned whether the conversation was premature, given that the City Council does not currently intend to have discussions about cannabis hospitality businesses in 2021.

Because Denver allows such establishments, Christy said he'd rather take some time and learn from Denver's experience.

"Procedurally, are we doing this the right way? It does seem to me that if we're not even on council's 2021 agenda, us making a recommendation at this point seems very premature to me, particularly when we're dealing with such a controversial issue," Christy said.

But others noted that, in CLAB's nearly two-year history, the Council has yet to make too many specific requests of the board. Some said it's better to be prepared in case it does.

Either way, board member Alana Malone, who co-founded Boulder-based Green Dot Labs, said a lot of the topics under the board's purview can be controversial.

"I feel like we just took such a tremendous amount of community time and our time as well to sit through hours of public comment and we teed this up a long, long time ago," Malone said. "We absolutely need to have the conversation and hear from every board member."

Ultimately, the board agreed that each member would write in with additional concerns and ideas for consideration. Those comments will be compiled by the board's two ex-officio members, Allison Bayley and Kate Thomson, and brought back for further discussion in the June meeting.