Colorado's third-largest city is one step closer to allowing marijuana lounges.
On August 23, Aurora City Council
voted in favor of ordinances that would permit qualified businesses to offer social marijuana consumption. If the ordinances are again approved by council after a final reading on September 13, Aurora would join a short list of Colorado towns and counties allowing social pot use.
The marijuana hospitality business model has yet to be embraced in Colorado, with proponents of the practice leveling criticism at state laws banning liquor and tobacco sales at marijuana establishments, as well as location restrictions imposed by various municipalities. Although legal at the state level since 2020, marijuana hospitality must be approved by local governments before such businesses can become licensed, and only a handful of towns have done so — and even fewer have licensed marijuana lounges in operation.
If Aurora approves social pot use, that city would join Adams County, Black Hawk, Central City, Colorado Springs (although it's expected to eventually opt out), Dillon, Denver and Glendale as municipalities allowing marijuana hospitality. Only Colorado Springs and Denver currently have operating lounges, however, and a total of only two such businesses are currently licensed with the state.
During the August 23 meeting, Aurora City Council first approved a zoning ordinance allowing marijuana hospitality businesses to operate in business districts similar to those allowing bars and taverns, and then approved an ordinance creating a licensing structure for marijuana hospitality businesses.
Under the proposals, restaurants, cafes, yoga studios and other businesses could apply for a micro-sales license to sell limited amounts of products that patrons would have to consume on the premises, similar to a bar, while all 24 of Aurora's current dispensaries would be eligible to have tasting rooms of their own. Bud Fox Enterprises, an Aurora marijuana cultivation, has already announced plans to open a winery-like marijuana tasting room
, and has received initial approval from the state Marijuana Enforcement Division
Marijuana consumption areas would have to be private, enclosed and only available to patrons 21 and up; any indoor consumption spaces would need an air filtration system approved by the city. Mobile pot lounges, similar to party buses, would also be permitted under the ordinance as long as the vehicles have a partitioned area for the driver.
Marijuana hospitality had been opposed by Mayor Mike Coffman and a few councilmembers at previous meetings, but the issue seems to have enough support to clear a second and final vote, according to Councilman Dave Gruber. None of those "yes" votes will be coming from him, though.
"I think with marijuana being legalized only a short amount of time, the studies have not been conducted and conclusion are no available. I'm not worried about the edibles part, but I’m concerned that the smoke from marijuana in public facilities could be dangerous," he said during the meeting, citing concerns over the impact that marijuana smoke has on lung health.
Gruber, Councilwoman Angela Lawson and Mayor Pro Tem Françoise Bergan all voted against the marijuana ordinances, with Bergan echoing Gruber's concerns over indoor smoking and Lawson opposing the idea of mobile marijuana lounges. "I want to support this, but I have real problems with the mobile," Lawson explained.
Their concerns weren't strong enough to dissuade the rest of the council, however. Councilwoman Allison Hiltz compared marijuana hospitality to the city's current regulation of liquor consumption, and argued that marijuana users should have options similar to bars, restaurants and party buses.
"I just think it's interesting that now when we're talking about consenting adults who drink alcohol...the government wants to stop them," Hiltz said.
As currently written, the cap on marijuana hospitality establishments without sales would allow 24 such businesses in Aurora — equal to the number of current dispensaries — but there would be no cap on mobile lounges or marijuana hospitality establishments allowing micro-sales. No more than 25 percent of pot lounges could be located within any one of the city's six wards, and no consumption spaces would be allowed in residential districts. The permissible hours of operations would be from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Under the proposed licensing ordinance, half of all marijuana hospitality licenses would be reserved for social equity applicants for the first five years.