Colorado, and the Mile High City of Denver, have long been associated with liberal cannabis laws thanks to voters approving medicinal cannabis in 2000. 12 years later, Colorado would become the first of two states to legalize cannabis for recreational adult-use. The cannabis industry is overseen by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, though its authority largely pertains to licensed businesses that come into contact with actual cannabis products. While recreational legalization was a big step forward for consumers to legally obtain and possess cannabis, the legislation left out one key aspect: consumption. As of this writing, public consumption of cannabis is prohibited in Colorado, and that includes public events.
As the industry moved to accommodate both medical and recreational cannabis, events like your traditional High Times Cannabis Cups slowly moved out of the state, underground, or transitioned into private, invite-only affairs. Colorado no longer hosts “med only” events, as those can get “sticky, especially in a recreational state,” explains Jordan Person, Executive Director of Denver NORML, founder of Primal Therapeutics and Primal Healing. “We throw private events only. That has been our key to success since day one.”
Whether consumption should be part of events remains open for discussion. Business owners like Person, whose primary service involves infused cannabis massages, necessitate consumption. “The ability to consume is imperative for our spa events. All of our attendees and sponsors expect the ability to consume.”
Others, such as Anne Marie Doyle, Executive Director at Nuvolution and Founder of Denver Women of Cannabis, prefer to host nonconsumption events as consumption can also distract from the event experience. “We have done some consumption events,” Doyle explains, “but most of the events we throw are nonconsumption.”
“This is mostly because [in networking setting], it’s more professional when people are able to come and not all be stoned. Consumption creates a lack of connection; people come in and are there for the free cannabis and less on the content. It’s almost disrespectful when great speakers and content are lined up and people are talking over or smoking and not paying attention. For professional women that attend our events, especially the 35+ audience, they are less interested in purely cannabis events. They are looking at how they are going to grow their network and grow their business and they will get stoned on their own time, not at a networking event,” Doyle continues.
As the law stands, consumption permits for venues and events are overseen by Denver Excise & Licenses. Currently, there are two licensed consumption venues in Denver to date. These are the only venues that are allowed to have public cannabis events that allow consumption. Laws such as the Clean Indoor Air Act that prohibit smoking indoors never specified what products could or could not be smoked, and this has made it challenging for venues to find legal loopholes for allowing consumption events. Luckily, many businesses open their spaces up to organizers after-hours as private venues.
An important distinction in Colorado is the difference between a public and a private event. With the exception of the approved consumption venues, public cannabis events must prohibit consumption and be purely educational in nature. Private events may allow consumption so long as the event is not open to the public.
According to Sara Gluck, COO of the American Israel Cannabis Association, there’s a few piece of advice to heed when throwing a private event. “You have to do a few different things: You have a waiver that they have to sign, you have to have a guest list before the event, and you can’t have an invite go out to everybody; it’s a private, closed invitation event.” Person echoes this advice, reiterating that you should “Use whatever means necessary to not announce the address publically. Make the location private on all social platforms. Do not put the link to your event tickets on any outward facing platform; You may provide the link via private messenger or direct email only.”
It is commonly understood in Colorado that a private event is defined as:
- Invite Only: Guests must have tickets/invites in advance of the event
- No tickets at the door: Only those guests with preregistered invites are admitted to the event
- Not generally/easily accessible to the public: In Colorado,
- Not visible to the public: The event must be held in a residence or venue where consumption at the event cannot be seen from a public street, sidewalk or neighboring business.
While not specific to private events, it is important to note that venues that hold liquor licenses will most often prohibit any and all cannabis consumption on their premises due to warnings and statements issued by the liquor control board; poly consumption is not looked upon favorably in Colorado. If you want to have alcohol at your events, it must be given away free of charge to attendees 21+. You cannot vend alcohol at a cannabis consumption event, and you cannot vend cannabis at any event; all cannabis transactions must take place in a licensed facility.
Private consumption clubs began popping up early on in Colorado’s canabis history with the intention of allowing consumers a place to legally consume in private, though many operated as unlicensed dispensaries to cover overhead and have since been shut down. Cities like Colorado Springs and Denver have tried to establish regulations that would allow consumption-based businesses to flourish but have largely been unsuccessful at implementing these proposed laws. According to Doyle, it often depends on “what the laws are in the city you’re working in. [In Denver], we have the designated consumption areas that other places don’t have…to have a space in Lakewood that is a private space, you can have a consumption event no issue; in Denver, they want it to be at a licensed business.”
Colorado Cannabis Event Quick Facts:
Working with Licensed Brands
Licensed brands may sponsor cannabis events (consumption or not), but those events must able to prove that those in attendance are over the age of 21+ in consumption settings and at least 70% of the audience is of legal age if products and services are advertised. Some larger non-consumption events accommodate this by allowing cannabis brands to advertise exclusively in 21+ areas like smoking zones and beer gardens. This offers a great opportunity for event organizers to work hand-in-hand with licensed brands to accommodate one another without risking hard-to-obtain licenses. Licensed brands may not vend at events and technically the brand cannot give out samples, though, as discussed, individual gifting is legal. Additionally, you may find it harder to secure sponsorship funds from cannabis businesses, who often prefer to work under trade arrangements.
Depending on the venue and the organizer, brands may be allowed to offer samples under the personal gifting laws of Colorado that allow you to share up to an ounce of cannabis without renumeration. While laws prohibit employees of licensed businesses from giving out free cannabis, individuals that can prove a legal transaction are allowed to gift small amounts to one another. Unlike events held in other states, attendees do not expect “gift bags” full of cannabis or cannabis to be provided for them at events, which are largely BYOC (bring your own cannabis). Additionally, advertising cannabis-related services in Colorado requires some creativity and discretion; no more than 30% of an audience may contain minors and you cannot have large billboards or signage.
“Our hands are tied in a lot of ways for marketing in CO,” remarks Doyle. “The 70/30 rule is a big one; [it is important to know] who you are able to present an event to, who you are able to ticket, and what the laws are in the city you’re working in. I think that we have the greatest reach with our email content marketing and that way we are able to control our audience and target it to the people who are only interested in what we are doing. Social media is tough because of the shadow ban. Regardless of TW, IG or FB, there are FB posts that we have gotten 1000s of responses or views and others where we get dozens. It’s not consistent and logical and it’s just messed up.”
If you want to throw an event in Colorado, decide if it will allow consumption or not. If it will be a nonconsumption event, you will have a greater selection of venues and the ability to advertise more freely generating tickets sales from the general public. If you want to throw a consumption event, your first task is finding a venue that will allow it, and then making sure that your promotions are targeted at the right audiences, and your ticket/invite links are kept private, only sent to attendees directly via messages, emails, or private communication methods; don’t post the link publicly on any website or social media platforms, and don’t hand out flyers on the street. Make sure that you stick to a clear, consistent messaging strategy and ensure all staff members and sponsoring brands understand what is and is not allowed by law and by your venue to avoid confusion and potential issues.
If you’re considering hosting a cannabis event in Colorado, the EventHi team is here to help. We offer a safe-hosting environment for event creators across the United States to host, promote and sell tickets using EventHi’s platform. Let EventHi help you through the process. Get started by hosting your event today on EventHi’s marketplace.
Written by Ben Owens, writer for EventHi.
- The above information is provided as a public service. It is not intended as legal advice.