The lingering effects of a bad smoke session may have finally worn off for a handful of patrons who were issued public marijuana consumption citations at a private marijuana lounge on April 20.
Tetra 9 Private Lounge & Garden opened in February and has yet to receive a social cannabis consumption license from the City of Denver. Using a private, members-only model, Tetra 9 was operating relatively smoothly during its first two months in business, holding pot-infused art classes, concerts and other forms of entertainment. But when the 4/20 holiday came around, the lounge fell under the watchful eyes of the Denver Police Department and the Department of Excise and Licenses.
Undercover police officers said they were able enter Tetra 9 without proving membership on 4/20, thus making the event public — which the owner disputes. The officers then issued public-consumption citations to three patrons and the venue's owner, Dewayne Benjamin, who was also cited for violating Colorado's Clean Indoor Air Act, a measure that bans smoking inside public places. However, Benjamin and at least two of his patrons have seen their 4/20 citations dismissed, according to court documents.
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Attorney Rob Corry says he knows "for a fact" that charges against another visitor, Chauncey Stefanidis, were also dropped. "This was on 4/20 in a private venue. That's what this time and place were made for," Corry says. "It's like citing people for drinking beer at the St. Patrick's Day parade."
Benjamin believes that the Tetra 9 event was even more private than a parade, however, noting that the undercover officers signed waivers acknowledging that they were entering a private facility on April 20. "It was pretty much just a waste of time. My establishment was private when they came in," he explains. "The city and [Excise and Licenses] just aren't on the same page with these tickets."
Despite operating without a hassle since April, Benjamin says he plans to apply for a social consumption license with the City of Denver in the near future so that he can avoid headaches going forward.
"They never reached out to me about the operational side of the lounge or tried to learn about what goes on at these establishments. They'd rather just criminalize it and then figure it out after," he says. "The city needs to work on giving options to tourists and locals who need a comfortable place to consume marijuana. The [social consumption] laws have been passed for almost a year now, but they're making it so difficult for these establishments to exist."
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Denver's social cannabis licensing program opened last summer, but so far it's only received three applications, with just one being approved. Critics have pointed to harsh location designations and a lack of profitable business options as the main reasons for the lack of applications, citing requirements that ban indoor smoking, alcohol use and marijuana sales as large detractors.
Excises and Licenses and the DPD will occasionally team up to both warn and test venues or events they believe are allowing unlicensed public marijuana consumption, according to Excise and Licenses. Before April 20, the departments issued letters to marijuana-related businesses, reminding them that public pot consumption is illegal. But they also sent undercover police officers to see who was following the rules — and as a result, both Tetra 9 and the Cheba Hut on East Colfax Avenue received citations for allegedly allowing public consumption on 4/20. (The same tactic ended in similar citations against the founders of the International Church of Cannabis on April 20, 2017, and those citations are still being disputed in court.)
Cheba Hut owner David Timmons could not be reached for comment about the status of his citations, but he's expected to appear at an Excise and Licenses disciplinary hearing in August to discover the fate of Cheba Hut's liquor license.
The Denver City Attorney's Office, the DPD and Excise and Licenses all declined to comment on the Tetra 9 or Cheba Hut cases.