ENGLEWOOD — Pot smoking just got a little easier in the Denver area — but no less fraught with controversy.
A newly opened cannabis club here allows, for a fee, people ages 21 and older to spark a joint, pack a bowl or vape some THC concentrate with other like-minded weed enthusiasts.
But last month’s debut of Colorado’s latest marijuana smoking lounge — iBake Englewood, 3995 S. Broadway — quickly ran afoul of city officials.
Last week, the Englewood City Council passed a six-month emergency ordinance prohibiting additional pot-smoking clubs. The city probably will create permanent rules against on-site consumption in the coming months.
The quick scramble by Englewood highlights one of the most vexing and intractable conflicts playing out in the wake of Colorado’s 2012 pot-legalization law: People are free to buy marijuana in the state, but use of the drug in public is not permitted.
The public-consumption conundrum leaves many users, particularly visitors and out-of-town tourists, in a bind.
Where to smoke in Denver
Most hotels in Colorado are not pot-friendly, and smoking lounges — another iBake in Adams County, Nederland’s Club Ned and a pair of clubs in Colorado Springs — are few and far between.
C.J. Fuchs, who moved here from Florida with his father to open iBake Englewood, said he ran headlong into the problem on a prior visit to Colorado.
“I could buy pot, but I couldn’t smoke it,” he said. “I’d get fined in my car, and I’d get fined in my hotel.”
So he decided to get in front of the problem. But with many Colorado municipalities outright banning marijuana clubs — Denver police raided two businesses over the 4/20 weekend — finding a place to open a lounge wasn’t easy.
Englewood spokesman Mike Flaherty said the city, which does not allow the sale of recreational marijuana, was essentially caught flat-footed when iBake came for a business license.
Englewood codes do not speak to the legality of marijuana use in social clubs.
“We weren’t prepared for this membership type of use,” Flaherty said. “It would have been our approach to not allow this. This one got by us.”
The contradiction in the law has led to boisterous discussions about what constitutes public consumption and the extent to which government should restrict use of a product that voters in Colorado have overwhelmingly deemed legitimate for adults.
More views on social pot use
Pushback from marijuana advocates is most notably coming in the form of a campaign to get a measure on Denver’s November ballot that would expand marijuana consumption to commercial establishments — including bars and clubs — that meet certain guidelines.
Results from a poll released last week show that 56 percent of likely Denver voters support the initiative.
Jeff Gard, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law, said providing legal places to smoke would make it less likely that cannabis users will sneak hits in alleys and behind dumpsters. But there are even more fundamental issues at stake, he said.
“You cannot stop free association,” he said. “Individuals over 21 have the right to come together and use marijuana. Government cannot infringe on that.”
Gard will head to Denver Municipal Court on Tuesday to argue for the dismissal of charges against The Break Room, one of two former private Denver marijuana smoking clubs raided in April.
He said the club is akin to a local branch of the Elks Lodge — open to members only. That privacy element not only counters a charge of public consumption, he said, but provides the business with an exemption to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.
Fuchs said that despite city leaders’ apparent distaste for his type of business, he intends to be a good neighbor. Ultimately, he’d like to see rules relaxed on the establishment of gathering places for cannabis use.
“This is a necessity,” he said. “I’d like to see these places all over.”
John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, email@example.com or twitter.com/abuvthefold