Medical marijuana consumption laws: What they mean for hookah bars and private pot clubs

Colorado's new medical marijuana regulations ushered in by House Bill 1284 mean lots of changes for a lot of pot businesses, not the least of which is the part of the law that prohibits all on-site marijuana consumption. That means Ganja Gourmet and all other marijuana restaurants and coffee shops that have opened in the past year will need to require customers get their selections to go -- or shut down for good.

There are several reasons to grumble about this scenario, says Denver lawyer Bob Hoban. For one thing, he says, lots of patients could benefit from having a private and safe establishment where they could medicate. Furthermore, such establishments could be a very viable business model and tax revenue generator, if the current examples in the Netherlands are any indication.

Still, Hoban concedes on-site consumption can have its downsides. "It sounds like a good time to me, but it can get out of hand," says Hoban. For example, he's heard of tensions growing between landlords and dispensaries that allow on-site medicating in Boulder, which currently allows it (a privilege that will go away once the new state law goes into effect).

Is there any way around the no-consumption clause? For example, can folks open private, membership-only clubs where they could medicate freely, à la the new Club 420 in Breckenridge? Hoban doesn't think so. "The bill makes it very clear in no uncertain terms that people shall not create any sort of business that allows consumption," he says. "A club would be considered a business under my analysis."

The bill is so strident in prohibiting any business where patients can congregate and smoke that some folks wonder if the law has also outlawed endeavors like hookah bars and cigar lounges. Hoban acknowledges that's a valid concern: While he thinks hookah and cigar bars that have already been operating could argue successfully they have a vested right in their businesses, new establishments might run into trouble. Still, he believes even these operations would eventually win in court. "If you were somebody who wanted to open up a hookah bar, I would argue this bill wouldn't apply to you."

Just make sure you're putting tobacco in that hookah, and not something else.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner