A marijuana speakeasy is on the verge of opening in Denver.
At first, the Bodega sign offering color TVs, VCRs, blunts and joint papers looks like an old-school homage to an East Coast corner market, with shelves of snacks, Latin food, piñatas and a random assortment of goods and electronics for sale inside. But while we couldn't take pictures inside, trust that there's more than just soft drinks behind the old Squirt soda machine on the wall: It's actually a secret door leading to a glossy, marijuana-friendly lounge boasting booths, flat-screen TVs and a coffee bar.
The space has already started hosting private parties and plans to expand to a club model by spring, according to employees, who hope to be accepting the club password from members within the next several weeks.
The Bodega social consumption club is located next to La Bodega dispensary in a building at 1270 West Cedar Avenue, and is owned by the same business group that owns the dispensary. Anyone wanting to buy weed from the pot shop must be a medical marijuana patient, however, as the store doesn't have a recreational sales license. And because the Bodega lounge isn't licensed for sales by the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, patrons of the club will have to bring their own.
While the state's marijuana consumption licensing program is less than two months old, Denver passed an ordinance to license and regulate social pot use in 2016. According to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, no application for a social marijuana consumption license has been filed for Bodega's address, but the owners have at least talked to city officials about submitting an application. (Bodega ownership did not respond to requests for comment.)
The review process on an application can take upwards of three months, which means that if Bodega opens this spring, it would likely operate as a private, unlicensed social use business for at least the first several months. Under this model, any guest (21 and up only) would have to register as a member before going through Bodega's secret door.
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Denver's program bans smoking indoors at licensed pot lounges; those lounges also can't be located within 1,000 of feet of any school, daycare or public park — which has led several consumption spaces to choose the private club model instead. Businesses operating under the private-membership strategy have been subject to fines and law enforcement raids over alleged public marijuana use and Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act violations, but several of these lounges continue to operate in the Denver area.
The MED's new social use program is more expansive than Denver's, allowing smoking indoors and marijuana tasting areas on site at dispensaries, but local governments must opt in to the program before the businesses can legally operate within their municipal limits.
With the state's new law in mind, Excise and Licenses has begun soliciting public feedback on potential social use expansion in the city; Denver City Council is likely to decide the issue later this year.
While Bodega is unlikely to be licensed by either the city or the state by its target opening date, the speakeasy could still apply for a permit and open to the public in the future.