CO: Cannabis Legislation Could Legalize Cannabis Tasting Rooms

Photo Credit: The Coffee Joint

A guy walks into a bar — and he orders a Love’s Oven chocolate chip Sativa cookie to go along with his fresh mug of dark roast coffee.

That could be the reality in Colorado by the first day of 2019. House Bill 1258, introduced in the Colorado Legislature on Feb. 26, and commonly known as the “tasting rooms legislation,” would permit both medical and retail licensed marijuana businesses to have an on-site establishment that sells marijuana products for the purpose of consuming them at the location.

“To me, it just seems like where the natural evolution is in the industry,” state Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, says.

Fenberg is one of six sponsors of the bipartisan house bill. Another, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, says this bill has been three or four years in the making. Since Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in 2012 (the law went into effect in January 2014), the goal has been to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Singer is hopeful this will be another step toward that.

He says legalization in Colorado has been “almost a bait and switch, for tourists especially” — marijuana is such a driver of statewide tourism, and yet public consumption is illegal.

And it’s possible that the law has caused confusion. In fall 2014, Colorado Public Radio reported that Denver police had a 471 percent increase in citations for public cannabis consumption in the first three quarters of that year, compared to the year prior, which was before recreational cannabis stores opened. And this year, Westword reported from the time of legalization through 2017, Boulder saw a 54 percent climb.

“What we’re doing now is we’re saying, ‘We know the world of alcohol — for wineries, breweries and tasting rooms for spirits and alcohol — it works,’” Singer says. “If we can make that work for alcohol, why can’t we make that work for marijuana?”

As the name suggests, the proposed experience would be similar to a tasting room at a winery — allowing customers to try a product before perhaps buying more of it to take home.

“It’s also a place where you can do it more socially,” Fenberg says, “and hopefully not have to do it outside and break the law. To me, it makes sense to have it in a monitored place, and there are regulations for how much they can sell on-site.”

Those limitations on purchases are as follows: 10 milligrams active THC in an infused product, 3.5 grams of flower or one gram of marijuana concentrate. Compliance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act means patrons will not be allowed to smoke (but vaping or eating is OK).

The one big hiccup for locals in the Springs? Just like with Amendment 64, the individual cities can decide whether to enact this measure. The Colorado Springs City Council enacted the ban on recreational marijuana sales with a 5-4 vote in 2013.

A nearby business that may have a tasting room come next year is Maggie’s Farm, which is one of two recreational marijuana stores in Manitou Springs (and all of El Paso County).

“At a certain point, where are you supposed to consume?” asks Linden Mundekis, marketing director for Maggie’s Farm. “I think as long as it’s in compliance with state regulation … it’s a good thing.”

One store in Denver may just be the test case for a bevy of future marijuana establishments across the state.

The Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program Initiative (Initiative 300) passed in November 2016 with 53.6 percent approval in Denver. From The Denver Post: “Initiative 300 would create a four-year pilot program allowing regular businesses … to seek permits for bring-your-own marijuana, over-21 consumption areas that are indoors (allowing vaping and edibles, but not smoking) or outdoors (allowing smoking).”

The Coffee Joint will be the first store through the proverbial wall.

The Denver Department of Excise and Licenses approved the first cannabis consumption license for the southwest-of-downtown coffee shop. The store is open but not fully operational yet. Rita Tsalyuk, The Coffee Joint co-owner, hopes to receive her license within the week.

With the attention they’ve seen as the first-of-its-kind “coffee shop,” Tsalyuk says they plan to cover more ground in the industry, specifically incorporating marijuana-education classes surrounding regulation, cannabis products and psychology.

“Since we got so much publicity when we started doing it, we wanted to take it to the next level,” Tsalyuk says. “It became much bigger than we planned.”

Singer is an Initiative 300 supporter, but thinks this new proposed bill needs to be considered separately because it allows for the on-site sale of marijuana, in addition to the consumption location.

“We’re getting rid of that one degree of separation to allow people to purchase and consume,” Singer says.

House Bill 1258 is scheduled to be heard by the House Finance Committee on March 19.