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Shot clock runs out on Boulder’s cannabis hospitality framework — for now

BOULDER — Colorado lawmakers set the stage in 2019 for local governments to legalize cannabis hospitality businesses, and Boulder officials have spent the past three-plus years mulling what the regulatory framework for this new class of business should look like. Meanwhile, would-be business operators have been champing at the bit to launch their restaurant-cum-smoking lounge or 420-friendly yoga studio.

They’ll have to wait a little longer, as the Boulder City Council last week opted to kick the cannabis hospitality can down the road to allow for a newly constituted council to decide after Boulder’s municipal election in November whether members want to weigh in on whether this type of business should be allowed in the city and, if so, to craft the rules of the road. 

Because Boulder’s foundational marijuana code is structured differently than many of its neighbors, city staff can’t simply crib an existing hospitality plan from a municipality where such businesses are already legal — Denver, for example, city staff said. 

Boulder City Council members last week were put in a somewhat awkward position of being asked to provide staffers with guidance regarding an item of business from which some elected officials believed they ought to stay far away — at least for the next few months. 

The situation arose when Boulder’s Cannabis Licensing and Advisory Board, or CLAB, which for years had debated the finer points of pot hospitality, delivered the City Council with a detailed set of recommendations for a regulatory framework this spring. City staff then went to the council for guidance on how to proceed. Should staff hire a consultant to engage with the community and determine whether neighbors are clamoring for vape bars? If there is broad support for the new business concept, how many hospitality licenses should the city initially grant?

Council’s response: Don’t do anything now. For all we know, come November, the new Boulder City Council will have 50 items that they prioritize higher than regulating a new type of pot business. 

“I’m not supportive of moving forward at this time. That also includes (directing staff to explore options for community) engagement without us or a future council putting this a priority,” Boulder City Councilwoman Nicole Speer said during last Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t think this is where we should be spending staff and community time right now.”

Higher priorities for staff resources include programs for affordable housing, mental health and addiction support, homelessness and climate change, she said.

Mayor Aaron Brockett agreed that it is “too late” in the term and that staff and council are “too busy” working on already identified priorities to take up cannabis hospitality. 

Even if cannabis hospitality were a high priority for this council, city officials questioned whether there is a mechanism by which they could require the next council to continue working on the issue. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this, where a council on its closing days tells staff to go out and start working on something with a prediction that the next council will want to do that thing,” Boulder City Councilman Bob Yates said. 

But not all officials agreed that cannabis hospitality work must be put on hold for at least the next five or so months.

“I don’t think that this is unprecedented. …People bring things to the council that we then choose to work on,” Councilwoman Lauren Folkerts said. “… I personally believe in marijuana being safer than alcohol, and I’d like to see hospitality alternatives to bars.”

Allison Bayley, an ex officio CLAB member, said the decision on how to move forward with cannabis hospitality “is not a now or never conversation.” She did, however, note that her “fellow members spent a lot of time listening to experts and public-health professionals, folks in the industry and some community members about their perspectives,” and spent months carefully crafting CLAB’s recommendations to the City Council. 

“That work is not wasted, it’s a gift to the next council,” Yates said. 

Highlights of CLAB’s recommendations include limiting access to hospitality businesses to people over the age of 24, and prohibiting edibles but permitting beverages.

Source: BizWest