Colorado's cannabis community was surprised when iBake Denver, one of the state's longest-running consumption clubs, announced that it would close at the end of the year because it would not be ready to comply with a new state law that licenses social pot use. Open since 2013, the club started as an Internet radio show hosted by Thurlow "T.L." Weed, but slowly transformed into a cannabis club under Weed and his wife, LittleTree Oppy, whom he met when she was a weekly caller to his radio show.
Weed and Oppy both fought back tears earlier this month as they announced the impending closure of iBake, which will shut its doors on January 1, 2020. To learn more about iBake's story, we caught up with the couple behind the club.
Westword: Any memories sticking out as you start reflecting on the club's history, or is it too soon?
T.L. Weed: Something I will never forget was the first 4/20, when a High Times Cannabis Cup was here, in 2014. On our first 4/20, in 2013, we didn't think the shop would be busy, so we actually closed and set up a booth at the 4/20 rally at Civic Center. We decided in 2014 that we should keep the shop open, because more people were going to be there for the High Times Cannabis Cup.
Two days before the Cannabis Cup, I looked at the address of its location online, and it was then that I realized it was going to be at the Denver Mart, which is three blocks from our store. So we woke up on the morning of 4/20, and — this brings tears to my eyes just thinking of this — there was a line from a mini-mart on 58th Avenue to the Cannabis Cup. But looking back on it, so many of them were lined up to get into iBake, and that will always stick in my mind. We went up to the roof just to see it, and they were everywhere. We had at least 1,000 people come through that day.
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LittleTree Oppy: There's so many, but if I had to boil it down, it was the holidays. For Christmas, Veterans Day, Fourth of July or any holiday, we always hold something with our iBake family, which are our members. On Christmas we have a dinner and gift exchange; on the Fourth of July we'll go up on the roof and watch fireworks. We always did something together as a family, and I'm going to miss that a lot.
What was your initial reaction when you heard that the state was going to license social cannabis establishments?
T.L. Weed: We were very excited, because we knew at some point that regulation and licensing would come about. There were some certain things during the writing and passage of the bill that we were worried about, such as being grandfathered in. I don't think a lot of people know what grandfathering means, at least in this situation. Under the law, if we're able to abide by the MED and Adams County's laws and rules, then we won't have to shut down and reopen. It tries to make a seamless integration, but it's not the best way to do it right now. The counties don't even have the full rules in November, so how can they force us to comply with that less than two months later?
I thought that with grandfathering, it'd be sort of like how medical dispensaries were treated when recreational sales passed, and it'd give us a year to get up to speed. But that's not what our lawyers and Adams County have been talking about. When the law was passed, these things were so vague, and left to the MED to fill in. The only thing we could do was base our strategy on what we've seen before, but then Adams County told us that we had to be in full compliance by January 1, according to the new law.
LittleTree Oppy: We don't even know what is needed to be done January 1, so how can we have it done?
Why not close so you can get up to speed with the rules, and then reopen?
T.L. Weed: It's very hard for a small cannabis business to close and reopen like that, especially with what has happened to cannabis clubs around here over the past years. When you're forced to shut down, people become scared no matter what you tell them. One of the things that made people feel comfortable about coming here was that we'd been open for so long. People who come from states where cannabis is frowned upon initially come in here nervous, but they tell us they chose us because we have the most reviews and are the most established. It'd just be too hard to build business back up again.
LittleTree Oppy: Adams County isn't going to allow micro-sales [of cannabis], we've been told. So even if we do reopen, if dispensaries can allow consumption and lounges can have micro-sales over the next few months, how can we compete with that? Not allowing micro-sales would make having a competitive model very hard.
Where do you go from here, then? Will you both stay in cannabis?
T.L. Weed: My son and I have launched a YouTube channel, Weedz Garage, where we vlog. Cars have always been a passion of mine, so I want to build some and document it. I hope to start racing, too, by January. As far as the cannabis industry goes, I love it — but my Instagram was shut down three times in one month. My content kept getting flagged, and I'd have to email Instagram to get it reactivated. Things like that, with what has just gone on with the county and state, it just tires you out.
Even in the model that Denver allows, all of those people and their clubs are in trouble, too, if they don't have their MED licenses by January. This is something that affects more than just us, and it's not looking like the counties or the MED are really helping these businesses.
LittleTree Oppy: I'm going to return to Missouri and become involved in the medical marijuana program and that whole aspect, which is new out there. I just want to consult people based on my experience and knowledge, but I won't be heading any more rallies. There's a whole new generation that can take that activism torch. I'm excited for them, too, but my time is done.
T.L. Weed: The thing about trying to be a pioneer is that after you go over that rough terrain and get to where you're trying to go, you're beaten. This is a part of my life that I'm always going to hold dear, and I'm proud we were able to build this. But the emotional side is very tough, and it's beat me up more than the business part.
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LittleTree Oppy: To get regulated out of business, just to make way for big business, it's kind of a kick in the face.
What do you have planned before closing in 2020?
LittleTree Oppy: We're going to do our normal Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day celebrations. Then the New Year's Eve bash will be amazing.
T.L. Weed: Since we have to close on the first, our whole office upstairs is going to be cleaned out by New Year's, so we'll basically have double the space. We're going to have a bubble party on New Year's Eve, and live DJs. We're going to have a dab hookah and hotbox the place. There will be some club memorabilia we'll be auctioning off and selling, too.