A private marijuana club has been closed by Denver health investigators, who don't consider the club at 3039 Walnut Street or its events private enough to be operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2018, Tetra 9 has been a members-only lounge allowing marijuana use. Although the club has been visited by police for various public marijuana smoking and Clean Indoor Air Act violations over the years, Tetra 9 and owner Dewayne Benjamin have largely operated without city interference. That started to change in July, Benjamin says, as investigators from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment began stopping by Tetra 9 and inquiring about the events being held there.
According to the DDPHE, Tetra 9 was shuttered on August 8 "because of smoking," citing a citywide public-health order issued June 18 that closed establishments devoted to smoking during the coronavirus pandemic, including cigar and hookah bars as well as marijuana lounges, whether private or public businesses.
"Three customers were observed smoking indoors and water bongs were present. Upon the investigator’s arrival, the owner and bouncer were not wearing face coverings while within six feet of other individuals," a DDPHE summary reads. "Also, this facility does not have a license for cannabis social-use, [and] that is what was taking place at the facility."
Benjamin says that he understands the need for safety and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and is willing to close his indoor space, but he would like to continue allowing members to use his outdoor patio, which he says measures around 10,000 square feet. He also takes issue with the observations about face coverings and social distancing in the DDPHE report, and asserts that his property is private and does not need a license to allow marijuana use.
"I'm not open to the public, and that is the big issue I have. We haven't been open to the public since our inauguration," Benjamin says. "As for the masks, I was hanging a speaker about thirty feet away from everyone while a mask was hanging by my chin, and the DJ was outside without a mask on."
When a DDPHE investigator tried to enter Tetra 9 on Friday, July 31, Benjamin says, he refused to let him in. The DDPHE investigator returned the following Sunday, August 2, and toured the property; according to Benjamin, the investigator simply told him that the club needed a sign alerting members to the city's mask ordinance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tetra continued operating afterward, and was planning a party of up to 150 members on Saturday, August 8 — and that's when the DDPHE had had enough. Officials closed Tetra under the city's public-health order hours before the event was set to begin.
"We'd been keeping at 30 percent capacity inside, and we haven't had over 75 people on the property since reopening. I was told we could have fifty people inside and 100 outside, and we weren't close to filling that," Benjamin says. "I think they were set on closing me before they even walked into the building."
Benjamin is "absolutely in agreement with being closed if they feel like it’s a public-safety risk," he says, but now he wants to know what Tetra must do in order to reopen. "I feel like it was personal, because I didn’t receive any of that."
According to DDPHE communications specialist Tammy Vigil, Tetra 9 will be allowed to reopen if Benjamin submits a plan that the agency approves showing how the club will abide by the public-health order.