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Justice with Jessica: Cannabis lounges navigate 'vague' regulations

Cannabis lounges navigate 'vague' regulations
Patterson Inn
Posted at 12:32 PM, Apr 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-21 14:32:18-04

DENVER — Colorado has come a long way since it legalized recreational pot ten years ago. Now, future owners of cannabis lounges are trying to pave the way for how Coloradans will consume marijuana in the coming years.

They have to comply with multiple regulations, including those for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC).

Chris Chiari, one of the first lounge owners to navigate the regulations, said being in the first wave has its challenges.

Chiari plans to open a cannabis lounge at the historic Patterson Inn.

"It's frustrating," said Chiari. "I want to be open, I want to deliver this product. I've been working on this for over 12 years. But on the same note, the process is the process, and I am comfortable navigating it because we are doing something that no one's done before. This process will be faster for every other applicant that comes after."

Regulators want to ensure that smoke from cannabis lounges doesn't seep out into neighborhoods or overwhelm employees.

"The City of Denver has said that they want to know whether or not there's the presence of secondhand THC in the air," said Chiari. "We're creating an environment and understanding what we're going into from the start with that eye towards employee safety and protection."

He received this message from The City of Denver:

"Employee exposure is definitely a concern, and guests who are not smoking. The Colorado Clean Indoor Air act requires that employees who request it are provided with a smoke- and emission free work environment…

“Denver will be using the 2018 International Mechanical Code ventilation rates for a smoking lounge as a baseline. Per AHSRAE no amount of ventilation has been demonstrated to provide a safe environment when second hand smoke is present, however using the 2018 IMC as minimum baseline seems reasonable within the consumption lounge.”

Cannabis hospitality consultant Andrew Mieure says when future cannabis lounge owners are only given minimum baseline requirements, it can be difficult for them to know exactly what is expected of them.

"Like in Las Vegas, they have given us specific air changes per hour needed, and specific equipment specifications that we need," says Mieure. "Colorado has very much just stayed away from giving us any specific guidance. And it's been very, very vague."

Justice with Jessica: Cannabis lounges navigate 'vague' regulations

Denver7 reached out to Denver Community Planning and Development about the claims that their code requirements are vague.

They responded by saying in part:

"Helping people understand code requirements so they can deliver safe, healthy spaces is a priority of ours. In addition to recommending that businesses hire experienced, licensed contractors, city staff will work with permit applicants as needed to also help navigate ventilation requirements for cannabis hospitality locations."

Chiari has responded by having an HVAC system specially created to meet international standards, and creating a special area for employees.

"Where we're going further is to create an employee area that glassed in," says Chiari. "So the service area or the work area for an employee will spend most of their shift will be fresh air that is separate from the recirculated air in the cannabis lounge."

As Chiari continues to work through the guidelines, he hopes to open the lounge by the end of the year.

"Many cannabis consumers are looking for something to relax at the end of a busy week might enjoy consuming cannabis with friends at a backyard party and in many cases want to consume cannabis in a space where they feel comfortable," Chiari.

The lounge will occupy one part of the Patterson Inn. The boutique hotel also features themed suites, and bar.

Chiari said the hotel has the perfect address for a cannabis lounge — 420 East 11th Ave.

"Everyone who walks in the building knows our address. Our address is 420," said Chiari. "And it's a fun way to spark up a conversation."

The cannabis consumption lounge will be primarily for official members of the lounge, and people who are staying at the hotel.

"My goal is to create that safe space," Chiari said. "My lounge is meant to be an amenity to the hotel, not a destination. The hotel is the destination."

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