Marijuana tourism evolves in Aurora and Denver

Aurora flung open the doors on the next — and perhaps final — frontier in the world of legal cannabis in Colorado, giving initial approval this week for smoking lounges, tasting rooms and tour buses filled with stoned customers.

“I see this as a game-changer for the industry,” said Victoria Osler, an Aurora entrepreneur who plans to roll out a “party bus” called Dreamy Illusions, complete with a stripper pole, thumping music, strobe lights and, of course, mobile consumption.

“You will be able to consume cannabis on the party bus,” she said.

The Aurora City Council’s final vote on new cannabis hospitality regulations — with tourism top of mind — is expected Sept. 13; Monday’s initial vote was 6-3 in favor.

Colorado’s third-largest city would be following in the footsteps of neighboring Denver, which passed similar rules in April but won’t start taking applications for licenses until the fall. If Aurora’s ordinance passes, the city could start issuing licenses as soon as October.

Denver and Aurora are among the first cities in Colorado to adopt on-site and mobile cannabis consumption, according to Truman Bradley, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, and the new rules mark what could be the rollout of the final phase of pot legalization in the state.

According to CannaCon, which puts on cannabis expos across the country, seven U.S. states — including California, Nevada and New York — have passed laws or are considering legislation allowing gathering places for weed users.

Sales of recreational marijuana in Colorado began in 2014, after voters passed Amendment 64. But its prohibition on public pot consumption has muddied the legal landscape for those wanting to open places where people can light up or vape just after buying.

Police in Denver even raided several pot clubs in 2015 on April 20, the high holy day for cannabis enthusiasts worldwide. In 2019, the state legislature passed a law allowing the establishment of marijuana hospitality spaces, which cities can opt into.

“Aurora embraced delivery and is now embracing hospitality,” Bradley said. “I see this as another example of the end of reefer madness.”

Osler said she is entering the cannabis market under the state’s social equity protocols, which reserves licenses for members of communities that have for decades been disproportionately prosecuted for marijuana crimes — especially communities of color.

“Social equity has definitely opened a lot of doors to minorities that were affected by the war on drugs,” said Osler, who is Black.

Aurora’s rules would allow pot lounges, either in brick and mortar form or on wheels. Depending on the business, customers could purchase marijuana at the location or bring their own. Both smoking and vaping would be allowed under Aurora’s ordinance, and businesses could remain open until 10 p.m.

Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Denver Post

Rows of cannabis plants grow at Bud Fox Enterprises in Aurora on August 25, 2021.

But businesses would have to keep that consumption from being visible from the street, and would have to put in place odor mitigation measures.

“You can be in a public place as long as you can’t smell it or see it,” said Robin Peterson, manager of Aurora’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Mobile venues would have to have a partition separating the driver from the passengers — and their pot smoke — as well as separate filter systems for both the front and back of the bus. The cannabis buses won’t be allowed to stop outside schools, hospitals or in-patient substance abuse facilities.

Michael Eymer, owner and founder of Colorado Cannabis Tours, said he’s ready to apply for licenses in both Denver and Aurora. His company, with three buses and two SUVs carting marijuana fans around town for the last seven years, has operated in what he describes as a legal “gray area.”

Hospitality laws give the sector transparency and legitimacy, he said.

“We were those folks asking to be regulated,” Eymer said. “This is the beginning of the final phase of (marijuana) normalization.”

It’s a day Mark Prescott has been waiting for a long time. Prescott owns Bud Fox Supply Co., an Aurora grow operation where he hopes to open a cannabis tasting room as soon as he can. Bud Fox received the first hospitality license from the state three weeks ago, Prescott said.

He has submitted architectural renderings to the city, and had inspectors out at his business.

Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Denver Post

Renderings display what the proposed tasting room will look like at Bud Fox Enterprises in Aurora on August 25, 2021.

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