Marijuana-friendly coffee shop sues Lafayette to fight city's pot-business ban

The owner of a once pot-friendly coffee shop in Lafayette is suing the city over a ban that she says specifically targeted her legal operation. Veronica Carpio, owner of The Front Tea and Arts, had been allowing adults over 21 to vaporize cannabis on the premises during the evening since January, but Lafayette City Council unanimously approved an eight-month moratorium on "marijuana-related businesses" on February 5.

Included in the ban was language prohibiting places that "allow the use of marijuana" -- a line Carpio says was aimed at The Front. City Council members disagree, insisting that they were not going after any single business. Rather, they say they need time for the new laws to settle statewide before making any decisions about local rules.

Frustrated at the chilling effect the move had on her shop, Carpio says she was forced to file a lawsuit earlier this month. Essentially, Carpio claims Lafayette is violating her rights as a business owner; she argues she's within her legal rights to allow adults over 21 to consume cannabis in her business. She adds that her coffee shop is just that -- a coffee shop, not a marijuana-related operation of the sort that governments are allowed to ban according to language in Amendment 64. She also contends that the city's ban has negatively affected her bottom line already.

A March 2012 photo of The Front's Keri Smith showing off the shop's sign.
A March 2012 photo of The Front's Keri Smith showing off the shop's sign.

"Their decision regarding why they decided to put the moratorium in place has actually hurt my business," she says. "People in town don't want to be seen here [in the coffee shop], because they don't want anyone in council to see them here. I've been shunned by the business owners in this town; they basically hold their breath when they see me. "

City officials say otherwise and maintain that their citywide ban is needed. They argue that despite her business being private, Carpio is inviting the general public into her coffee shop. Because Amendment 64 specifically doesn't allow for "open, public consumption", they say she is violating the law by allowing adults to vaporize cannabis in her coffee shop during the evening -- even if it is behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Beyond that, they say, the state needs time to write their laws before the city starts re-writing their existing zoning and regulatory codes.

"I support the intent of the moratorium, which is to stop the development of any marijuana-based businesses in Lafayette until the state, and the city for that matter, have time to create appropriate regulatory structure around these businesses," wrote Lafayette City Councilwoman Alexandra Lynch in an e-mail to Carpio on February 5. "We don't want a repeat of the medical marijuana situation in Lafayette, where a number of businesses opened and then had to either relocate or shut down once the city had it's regulatory ducks in a row.... I think that it is only prudent for the city to take a time out while the state defines what all this means. So no, I do not support removing the words 'allow the use of marijuana' from the proposed ordinance."

A hearing date has not been announced yet, and Carpio says she hopes things get taken care of sooner than later. Carpio's attorney, Thomas West, did not immediately return calls for comment. In the meantime, Carpio says the shop is still up and running -- just without the nightly haze of cannabis vapor. "I haven't been issued a cease-and-desist letter or anything like that," she says. "I would rather comply with what they are asking and fight it through legal matters. It would be nice to look back on this in ten years and say it was worth it. But it's painful right now."

More from our Mile Highs and Lows archive: "Marijuana business ban in Lafayette includes cannabis-friendly coffee shop."

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