Business

Winery-Like Marijuana Lounge Awaits Aurora's Approval

Jacqueline Collins
Colorado's first winery-like tasting room for marijuana could be coming to Aurora if the Aurora City Council approves ordinances allowing new pot hospitality rules.

Back in 2017, marijuana cultivator Bud Fox Enterprises began building a unique marijuana facility in Aurora at 14896 East 38th Avenue, long before the state had legalized marijuana hospitality businesses. The 27,000-square-foot building, open since 2019, largely operates as a cultivation, but co-owner Mark Prescott says that he and his partners always had plans to incorporate an Amsterdam-like coffee shop where visitors could sample Bud Fox marijuana and other Colorado pot products.

"There still hasn't been a proven concept [for marijuana hospitality] because of the legal restrictions," Prescott says. "After the city opts in, though, we'll start construction as soon as possible."

A state law allowing towns to license marijuana hospitality businesses such as lounges, cafes, tasting rooms and mobile lounges took effect in 2020, but local governments still need to opt into the law before such businesses can open in specific towns. Only a handful of cities and counties have done that, though, and even fewer pot hospitality businesses have opened in Colorado. As of August 3, there were just two active hospitality  businesses registered with the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, with several private tour companies and venues also allowing social pot consumption. However, none of these businesses can sell marijuana products to visitors, who are supposed to bring their own.

Prescott is so confident that Aurora will approve hospitality businesses that he's already registered for a license with the MED — but Bud Fox's license also includes micro sales, allowing the Aurora space to sell marijuana products. That means Bud Fox is the first business in Colorado permitted by the MED for both hospitality and micro sales, but it still needs local approval before it can open a tasting room.

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Bud Fox's building was created specifically for marijuana production and hospitality, according to co-owner Mark Prescott.
Courtesy of Bud Fox Enterprises
The building's location would work well for both locals and tourists, Prescott says, since it's only twenty minutes from Denver International Airport. If Aurora gives hospitality the green light, Prescott wants to create a chic, 1,800-square-foot coffee bar and lounge at the front of the building to showcase Bud Fox's products and solar-powered cultivation, similar to the set-up at a brewery or winery. A separate glass room in the area would be used for smoking and vaporizing, he adds.

"This is what the area was always designed for," Prescott explains. "It's really exciting if you do it the right way."

Before any of this happens, however, he needs several layers of blessings from Aurora. First, the council needs to approve an ordinance allowing marijuana hospitality, as well as language that creates a license for micro-sales at such establishments.

During an August 2 study session, the council moved forward with proposed ordinances that would allow several forms of marijuana hospitality businesses, with their official introduction scheduled for August 23. But Mayor Mike Coffman and a couple of councilmembers expressed opposition to the proposals during the session, while the Aurora Police Department voiced concerns over stoned driving.

And APD Sergeant Kevin Barnes didn't stop there. Barnes told the council that he was worried his officers would experience a contact high if they had to respond to a call at a business allowing social consumption, despite state laws requiring any indoor smoking facility to have ventilation systems. He said he was also worried that officers leaving a marijuana hospitality business would smell like marijuana during domestic calls later on the same night.
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An artist rendition of Bud Fox's planned hospitality area, with a glass-encased smoking lounge (back right).
Courtesy of Bud Fox Enterprises
But Councilwoman Allison Hintz didn't buy it, citing research that shows people inside ventilated rooms where marijuana smoking had occurred didn't feel effects if they weren't partaking. "If a first responder gets a contact high, then they were there for more than just a response, based on the studies about the proximity and time they would have to spend next to someone smoking," Hintz told the APD officer.

As currently written, the cap on marijuana hospitality establishments would allow 24 marijuana consumption businesses in Aurora — equal to the number of current dispensaries — with no more than 25 percent of such businesses located within any one of the city's six wards. Mobile lounges and physical locations allowing pot consumption, but no sales, would also be allowed, as would lounges with micro-sales, like Bud Fox, which could sell limited amounts of products that would have to be consumed within the licensed premises, like a bar serving alcohol.

State laws ban any business from having both active liquor and marijuana consumption licenses, but restaurants serving food could apply. The permissible hours of operations would be from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m, with no consumption spaces allowed within residential districts.

"To wrap your brain around it, it's something most of us aren't used to," Aurora Councilwoman Marsha Berzins said during the session, comparing local marijuana legislation to learning Greek. "We've been working on this for months and months."

Denver City Council opted into the state's marijuana social consumption program earlier this year, but has not yet begun accepting applications. If Aurora's proposed ordinances are approved during upcoming votes, the city could become Colorado's first town to have a licensed marijuana lounge that's actually allowed to sell marijuana.

That would be a second marijuana business first for Aurora; last December, Aurora became the first town with dispensaries to approve recreational pot delivery, with the initial delivery taking place in March.