The City of Wheat Ridge has suspended the business license of Break the Stigma Fitness, a marijuana-friendly gym operated by Jennessa Lea, better known as Fit Cannabis Girl. And even though she's fighting this action, the landlord of her 9690 West 38th Avenue location has ordered her to leave by June 4.
"It's truly heartbreaking that things have gotten to this point," Lea says.
Lea moved to Colorado from Minnesota nineteen months ago, "and three weeks after I got here, I was in a car accident and my car was totaled," she says. "I took all the money I had, and instead of buying a car, I invested in building this space, because I know there are so many people who need hope and who need to learn how to partake in cannabis therapy exercise. I just want to help people achieve a better quality of life."
The concept of Break the Stigma Fitness mates exercise and cannabis consumption. "Basically, I work with dispensaries and brands to sponsor our classes," Lea explains. "I charge $28 for a two-hour experience, and within that two hours, you get an hour of yoga or kickboxing or other exercise. And the other hour is education and the ability to consume — and these sponsors gift me with product that I then turn around and gift to my clients."
Wheat Ridge's problems involve hour two of these sessions. The city's "Order of Immediate Suspension and Notice of Grounds for Revocation of the Business License," one of many documents accessible below, states that Lea violated city ordinances "by encouraging and permitting patrons to use and consume Marijuana on the licensed premises." Cited are two regulatory subsections, with the first maintaining that "no person may operate a business within the city concerning the sale, use, consumption, manufacture of marijuana unless specifically authorized pursuant to the provisions of this article" and the second stating, "No marijuana clubs may operate or obtain a business license to operate within the city."
"They're trying to make the gym into a club, which it isn't," Lea argues. "And the consumption is in a private residence, which is allowed under Colorado law. They also seem to think I'm making extra money or potentially taking money under the table for the joints I gift out. But I don't take any money for these sponsored products, and the $28 charge isn't for cannabis. There are people who don't take any of these products, but the charge isn't any less for them — and if you take three dabs instead of one, you don't get charged more. The price isn't dependent on how much you consume, because the cannabis is a gift."
Lea says Wheat Ridge employees have known about her approach since well before last August, when Break the Stigma Fitness first opened its doors.
"They're trying to show they had no idea we were going to be a cannabis-friendly facility when they approved our license, but I've been so transparent," she insists. "I talked to them on numerous occasions. I had many conversations before I applied for and paid for my business license. And even before I decided to purchase a property in Wheat Ridge, a real estate agent working for me told the people in the zoning department what we wanted to do, and they said there wouldn't be a problem."
She calls the city's current assertions "hurtful, because they're a reflection on my character for them to say these conversations didn't happen. It's not right. I'm a single mom who's invested literally every penny I have into this, and I wouldn't have done that if the city had said, 'This isn't going to be okay.' I don't have the ability to throw money around like that."
During Break the Stigma's months of operation, "we never had any complaints from neighbors or anyone in my community, even though we had signs saying 'cannabis-friendly fitness,'" Lea goes on. "I also spoke to several national publications about what I was doing, and I wouldn't have been advertising the business in that capacity if I thought I was doing anything wrong. And to top it off, I applied to Wheat Ridge for a business license to host the Colorado launch party for the 420 Games, because I always want to be within the law — and they gave me one."
But then came a piece of publicity that changed everything.
"Fox31 came out and did a very positive news story on March 13," Lea recalls. "And it went national. The next morning, I was receiving emails from people all over the U.S. It was a great response. At that point, things were going really well."
That same day, however, "two ordinances were written to essentially shut us down," she alleges, "and on March 29, we were served by detectives and had our license immediately suspended without telling us what we could do. They just came in here and took my ability to financially take care of myself, my daughter and the instructors who work for me. There was no warning."
A hearing was held earlier this month about the shutdown edict, at Lea's request, and she's currently waiting for the final ruling. However, she says, "The house I built the gym in was supposed to be rent-to-own, and because my license was suspended, I don't have the ability to make my rent payments. So now I'm forced to leave on June 4."
After the 4th, Lea goes on, she plans to head back to Minnesota for a few days and then hit the road — possible locations include Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington — for a tour during which she'll talk about her personal cannabis-fitness journey.
"I was obese, I was in a wheelchair, I was sick, I had no quality of life," she says. "This changed everything for me, and I'm here trying to help other people experience a better quality of life, too. That's why I'm going to educate, motivate, be a life coach and show people how they can use cannabis in their daily regimen. They're not going to be able to stop me, because this is my mission in life."
Click to donate to Fit Cannabis Girl, as well as to see original letters and more related to the suspension of Break the Stigma Fitness's license, additional documents related to the case and information about Jennessa Lea's deposition, reproduced below:
Deposition of Facts
In response to the complaint filed and delivered March 29th 2018: ORDER OF REVOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LICENSE, delivered to: Break The Stigma Fitness, 9690 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033. (shown above. Please click here to read the full #suspension blog)
All Marijuana Consumption is done on a Personal-Use Gift basis. Consumption is not for sale, Consumption is done in a Private Residence, it is not a retail marijuana establishment, it is not a marijuana club. Consumption is not done in the Open or in Public or in a manner that endangers others. No more than 1 ounce is transferred or gifted and transfers are made without remuneration. There is no monetary value attached to the consumption of marijuana on the premise.
Per Colorado State Constitution: (3) PERSONAL USE OF MARIJUANA. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the following acts are not unlawful and shall not be an offense under Colorado law or the law of any locality within Colorado or be a basis for seizure or forfeiture of assets under Colorado law for persons twenty-one years of age or older:
1. Possessing, using, displaying, purchasing, or transporting marijuana accessories or one ounce or less of marijuana.
2. Possessing, growing, processing, or transporting no more than six marijuana plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants, and possession of the marijuana produced by the plants on the premises where the plants were grown, provided that the growing takes place in an enclosed, locked space, is not conducted open or publicly, and is not made available for sale.
3. Transfer of one ounce or less of marijuana without remuneration to a person who is twenty-one years of age or older
4. Consumption of marijuana provided that nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is done openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.
5. Assisting another person who is twenty-one years of age or older in any of the acts described in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section.
All students of Break The Stigma Fitness classes are made aware that consumption was being done on a gift basis with no cost attached or implied any and all fees paid were strictly for fitness classes and education on health and nutrition. All students were made aware that we do not in any way sell marijuana or receive any commissions for marijuana purchased in any other establishment.
Promoting the use of Cannabis is 1st amendment protected speech for both Break The Stigma Fitness and it’s owner. Promotion was not done in an openly public manner and complied with Colorado State Constitution Amendment 64: (3) Personal Use.
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Break The Stigma Fitness has and will continue if allowed to operate within the Law as defined in the Colorado State Constitution Amendment 64 in regard to any guest being allowed to Personal-Use Consume in the private property where Break The Stigma Fitness resides as a Home Occupancy business providing Fitness, Health and Nutrition Education.
There has been no attempt to defraud or misrepresent the purpose of Break The Stigma Fitness. Marijuana is not the business purpose or monetized in this business, all consumption is private exercise of Colorado State Constitution Amendment 64 and Discussion or Promotion of any use, a free exercise of US Constitution 1st Amendment Speech. No Activities are performed openly in public and all participants are of 21 years of age or older.
Break The Stigma Fitness and it's owner view themselves as proud members of the Wheat Ridge Community and remain open to hear recommendations for reasonable terms or conditions deemed necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare or to obtain compliance with the requirements of any applicable laws.
Jennessa Lea, Owner and CEO, Break The Stigma Fitness