As Denver moves forward with its plans to allow cannabis hospitality and delivery businesses, don’t look for those companies to come to many other Front Range cities in the near future. While Boulder’s Cannabis Licensing and Advisory Board is debating whether to support marijuana hospitality and delivery businesses in the city, few other municipalities are even exploring the issue.
The issue of marijuana hospitality licenses has been a contentious one in Colorado since Gov. Jared Polis signed laws legalizing cannabis hospitality and delivery in May 2019. As with the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana sales in 2012, municipalities must opt into cannabis hospitality and delivery.
As of this writing, Longmont and Superior, which both legalized medical marijuana delivery in 2020, are the only Front Range municipalities north of Denver that allow some form of cannabis delivery or hospitality.
The Broomfield City Council legalized recreational marijuana stores in the city last month but did not indicate whether it would look at allowing cannabis hospitality or delivery.
Other cities and towns — including Fort Collins, Louisville, Firestone, Lyons, Mead, Erie, Johnstown and Milliken — have not publicly taken a stance on delivery or hospitality.
And some municipal governing bodies have publicly indicated that they won’t even explore legalizing cannabis hospitality businesses.
The Lafayette City Council passed unanimously in January a resolution “affirming a commitment to oppose marijuana hospitality establishments and recreational marijuana delivery.” Greeley, which banned all commercial marijuana establishments in 2012, specifically prohibits “the operation of marijuana clubs where individuals would gather for the sole purpose of using marijuana.” Loveland has also banned all retail marijuana stores.
As it stands, then, Boulder is the only municipality in the Boulder Valley or Northern Colorado that is exploring whether to allow marijuana hospitality and delivery businesses. Even if the Boulder Cannabis Licensing and Advisory Board does decide to support the contentious issue, which is no sure thing, the Boulder City Council would still have final say — and it’s unlikely that marijuana hospitality would even make the council’s agenda this year.
At its most recent meeting, at the beginning of last month, the Boulder CLAB did not reach a decision on whether to support marijuana hospitality licenses, instead deciding to continue discussion of the issue at its June meeting.
Members of the Boulder CLAB were divided on the issue and cited the need to hear more from experts about the potential effects that marijuana hospitality businesses could have on public health. They also raised the possibility of waiting to see the impacts of marijuana hospitality businesses in Denver, where they were legalized in April.
This means that Boulder’s potential first marijuana hospitality business will have to wait to learn if it will be able to apply for a license. Stella’s Lounge would be located at 1123 Walnut St.
Stella Spanu, who would operate Stella’s Lounge, said she wants to open a classy establishment that serves high-quality Italian food and cannabis instead of liquor.
“I want to bring something revolutionary to this community,” she said.
If marijuana hospitality businesses are approved, Stella’s Lounge would be at the site of the first brewpub in Boulder, Walnut Brewery. The brewery closed in 2017, followed by short-lived tenures of Boulder Beer and Detroit Pizza+Beer in 2018.
The property was purchased for $4.65 million in February 2020 by an entity known as Stella’s 1123 Walnut LLC. Stella’s Lounge LLC is a member of the Boulder Chamber and describes itself as an “Italian cafe with a cannabis hospitality license (subject to city of Boulder local ordinances) in the heart of Boulder.”
In addition to Stella’s Lounge, the 11,000-square-foot redeveloped former Walnut Brewery building would include other retail space and office space on the higher floors.
According to documents submitted to the Boulder CLAB, the cannabis lounge would be located in the rear of the ground floor of the new building. Outside of the building, passersby would not be able to see the space where marijuana is consumed. The lounge would also have a separate entrance from the rest of the building to facilitate entry control and easy ID checks. The lounge would also feature sophisticated cannabis storage and air filtration systems.
“The desire is to provide an elevated experience for guests where the stigma of cannabis is eliminated, and the public is provided with a hospitality destination on par, or even above, the level of other restaurants downtown,” reads a document submitted to the Boulder CLAB by the architect for Stella’s Lounge, Jim Bray of Bray Architecture Inc.
If Boulder does not allow cannabis hospitality businesses, Stella’s Lounge will operate as an Italian restaurant.
About 30 community members spoke during the public comment portion of that hearing. Boulder residents opposed to marijuana hospitality businesses voiced concerns about secondhand smoke and exposure of children to cannabis. Resident Chris Sherwin, speaking on behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said allowing these businesses would weaken Colorado’s indoor clean air law.
“Secondhand smoke is secondhand smoke, whether it comes from cigarettes or marijuana,” Sherwin said.
Others worried about use by kids and teens.
“I coached high school sports in Boulder, and I saw too many athletes derailed,” said Boulder resident Richard Leddon. “These social clubs would glamorize and normalize marijuana use.”
Proponents of marijuana hospitality said that the businesses would allow adult users to consume in public while restricting access to people under 21.
“The truth is that marijuana is being consumed whether or not we make this change,” said Morgan Hartley, owner of the Boulder software developer Wox Campaigns. “Responsible adult consumers should have the option to go to a safe licensed place that is away from the public. Marijuana consumers should be treated very much like alcohol consumers.”
The Boulder business community also came out in support.
“Our experiences with the cannabis industry in Boulder is that we have very responsible operators and licensees,” said Andrea Meneghel, director of public affairs, policy and outreach for the Boulder Chamber. “In many cases, our initial concerns with the marijuana industry have often been unfounded.”