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May 28, 2019

Colorado Legalizes Cannabis Cafes, Lounges and Other Social Use Areas

Marijuana cafes, lounges, dispensary tasting rooms and other social-use businesses will soon be legal in Colorado.

"Colorado has many tourists and residents who choose to participate [in legal cannabis use]. Up until this bill, there's been no way to have safe public consumption," Polis said before signing the bill on May 29, according to Westword. "I've smelled it walking my dog. For many of us with kids, we want to make sure we don't have that in our neighborhoods."

After failing to get bills through the Colorado Legislature every year since 2013, social pot consumption advocates saw House Bill 1230, their most expansive attempt yet, pass this session. Under the new law, Colorado dispensaries will be able to apply for a tasting-room license similar to the one used for breweries, while hotels, restaurants, music venues, art galleries, yoga studios and other businesses can apply for private consumption licenses and limited pot sales. Mobile marijuana lounges such as tour buses and limousines will also be licensed but cannot sell marijuana; temporary licenses for special events will be available, too.

Although recreational marijuana was legalized in late 2012 and the first retail dispensaries opened on January 1, 2014, the state hadn't come up with an official plan for social pot use until now. For over five years, tourists could purchase marijuana in Colorado, but they had very few options for legal consumption, as most hotels ban smoking or marijuana use on their property. Private clubs, tour buses and private cannabis events provided the only places where social consumption was technically allowed, but even those entities routinely faced legal battles with local law enforcement.

Under the new law, social consumption businesses will have to apply for a license through the state Marijuana Enforcement Division and will be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, a state law that bans public indoor smoking.

However, there are still some hurdles that the industry must jump over before you see marijuana cafes or hash bars popping up in your town.

Local governments will have to opt in to the new law and can ban social-use establishments just as they can ban dispensaries (more towns still ban dispensaries than allow them). And if a local government does approve social-use businesses, it can still tweak the regulations somewhat, such as disallowing certain forms of consumption, like smoking or vaping. For example, Denver's social pot consumption ordinance, which the city's voters approved in November 2016, bans indoor smoking, and that prohibition would remain unaffected unless Denver City Council decides to change it.

Marijuana lobbyist Cindy Sovine, who also does consulting for social pot use entrepreneurs, calls HB 1230 the "most expansive bill in the country" for social consumption, and says she believes it could help diversify the pot industry.

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