Pop a Squat at the Cannabis Bar

Irie Weddings & Events is a fully insured, Denver-based cannabis event company launched in 2014, shortly after recreational cannabis sales began in Colorado. Irie is currently co-owned by Bec Koop, Madlyne Kelly and Chelsi Katz; the smokin' trio offers cannabis curation and mixology services to the Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit areas.

Infusing weddings and events with weed have steadily increased in popularity since Colorado's legalization of the plant nearly a decade ago. The training and education process behind these gatherings, however, takes one big joint effort, from both a compliance and a customer care standpoint.

We spoke with Katz about her journey to Colorado in 2015, what it takes to service groups of hundreds of people at a time, and the importance of monitoring each guest's Rocky Mountain high.

Westword: Tell us about your personal passion for cannabis and what led you to help start Irie Weddings & Events.

Chelsi Katz: "I am a medical patient. It started in Florida, when I found out that I had a rare condition called Kienböck's disease. Basically, it’s an issue with the bones in my wrists and them not being able to grow properly, and it has caused a lot of pain. So I became a medical patient and moved to Colorado so I could pursue my passion for cannabis. I knew it was immediately for me as soon as I had it, and wanted to explore more of the legal market and the marketing world.

How does a cannabis bar compare to the average bar? What are some of the infused options Irie makes available to consumers?

We provide the service and the host provides the product. It’s kind of the same model as any third-party alcohol bartender would work, where you purchase the alcohol and show up with all of their garnishes and everything. That model also keeps us legal and allows our clients to shop at any dispensary they want, so it doesn’t limit them or what they can and can’t get.

The three basic categories we have for service are flower, where we will pack that into mini cones for single-service use; and canna-cocktails, which are one of the most popular options and definitely [provide] a big wow factor at events. A lot of people have seen a joint before, but when you hand them a cup that’s a beautiful drink with a garnish and you tell them that there’s cannabis in it, they’re like, ‘What?!’ And then our edibles. However, we do [primarily] recommend the drink service, as edibles have such a varied and delayed effect on people. So [edibles are] more of an add-on service to the base of your flower or your drinks.

How do you curate an enjoyable yet responsible experience for guests?

All of our staff go through proprietary training that we have made over the years. Actually, one of our owners used to work with the MMR [Medical Marijuana Registry] and helped create [its] language, so we are extremely compliance-driven. All of our bartenders go through an intensive training process.
click to enlarge Irie co-owner Chelsi Katz - SYDNEY SLABS PHOTOGRAPHY
Irie co-owner Chelsi Katz
Sydney Slabs Photography

We also help curate what guests consume throughout the night and when they consume it. So when they’re entering the event, they’re probably going to want something more light, happy and uplifting for them to enjoy the evening. And then once it’s halfway through the night or you’ve just had dinner, maybe you want something that’s a little more calming and relaxing, but also fun and [provokes] laughter. And at the end of the night, before going home, maybe some CBD.

When we work with our clients, we actually send them a cannabis purchasing guide that outlines the different averages and recommendations of what to get and how much, depending on the size of their guest count. For someone who isn’t as crazy familiar with how much their guests are going to consume, it’s still going to be guided throughout our process.

What is Irie’s "low and slow" approach to prevent overconsumption among guests? How is your staff trained to handle such situations if they arise?

We make sure that all of what we are serving to people is broken down into microdoses. Instead of having a full-gram joint, we pack about one-third of a gram into it for that smaller amount. Any edibles that are given to us get broken down into 5-milligram or 2.5-milligram pieces. And the same for drinks: They will [contain] 2.5 to 5 milligrams. We start off with way less than the state recommended serving, so that in itself helps lower that effect, because for a lot of people, 10 milligrams is still really strong — or a full joint or even a half-gram joint is a lot for a lot of people. This allows us to have a conversation with them about what their consumption level is.

Even if they’re familiar with cannabis or have consumed it before, we monitor how much they are consuming throughout the night, and we’ll even recommend: “Hey, why don’t you go eat dinner first and then come back?” Or say “You just ate this edible. Why don’t we wait another thirty minutes or an hour, and see how you feel before you try another one?” We’re there monitoring and guiding it, and we’re actually serving it. It’s not a bar where they can come up and just pick up whatever they want. We’re having that conversation with them and then serving it to them.

What are the most important things for guests (especially those first-timers) to understand?

There are multiple ways to consume cannabis. A lot more people are more open to the drink or a piece of chocolate instead of smoking and inhaling. Also, how we guide our guests with CBD, and make sure that there are CBD-based strains and edibles, and talk about that balance and entourage effect. Also, talking to them about the difference in climate and how the air can change the way that you are affected by both alcohol and cannabis. One of the most common things we see is that people are actually having a problem with the air and how thin it is up here, because there are a lot of destination events and weddings. You come from zero feet to 5,280 and start consuming alcohol, and then want to consume cannabis on top of that. We’re making sure that they are going at a nice, slow pace and are hydrated and drinking a lot of water.

We also have oxygen in our Adverse Reaction Kit [ARK] if anyone feels the effects of the thin air in Colorado. The ARK is a kit of all-natural, homeopathic, legal remedies that are known to help offset the effects of THC. It's not going to remove it from your system, but things such as peppercorns, essential oils, a can of oxygen — natural remedies that will help a person into a more stable mindset. Something that a lot of people don’t know is, if you crack down on a peppercorn in your mouth it will help reset your anxiety levels and focus on that flavor of the peppercorn versus what was causing you to panic.

Where do you see the business spreading in the near future?

Our focus now is on corporate events. While weddings have been our bread and butter and always will be, we’re seeing a large uptake in corporate events. Take your office holiday party, for instance: We would be there with a cannabis bar as well as your alcohol bar. That's becoming more and more popular for holidays, parties, corporate vacations and things like that. It's something that businesses should consider more for their get-togethers or something like a birthday, going-away party or anniversary. It’s way outside the realm of weddings, and can be anywhere that an alcohol bar is.