Bars in Washington, Colorado test the limits of their state's law legalizing marijuana

Marijuana legalized by voters last fall; clubs experiment
2013-03-27T00:00:00Z Bars in Washington, Colorado test the limits of their state's law legalizing marijuanaThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

TACOMA, Wash. - John Connelly leaned forward on his barstool, set his lips against a clear glass pipe and inhaled a white cloud of marijuana vapor.

A handful of people milled around him. Three young women stood behind the bar, ready to assist with the preparation of the bongs, to the strains of a blues band.

"It feels so comfortable in here," said Connelly, 33. "It's just a great social aspect."

Welcome to Stonegate - puns welcome. It's one of a tiny number of bars, cafes and private clubs catering to the stoner class in Washington and Colorado since voters last fall made them the first states to legalize marijuana for adults over 21.

Both states bar the public use of marijuana - which typically would include bars and restaurants - and most bars are steering clear of allowing pot use at least until officials come up with rules for the new weed industry.

But a few have been testing the boundaries of what's allowed in the hope of drumming up business and making a political statement.

"People shouldn't have to hide. There's no rules yet, but I'm trying to do this thoughtfully and responsibly," said Jeff Call, Stonegate's owner.

Washington's law bans pot distribution by anyone but a licensed seller - and no such licenses will be issued until the end of the year at the earliest. There's also a statewide smoking ban that prohibits smoking where people work.

So the establishments are trying various strategies to allow on-site consumption.

Frankie's Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia is less than a mile from the headquarters of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, where officials are writing rules for the pot industry. It allows members of its private smoking room to use tobacco or marijuana.

The owner, Frankie Schnarr, said his revenue has jumped by nearly half since he started allowing pot smoking in December.

In Denver, Club 64 - named after Colorado's law, Amendment 64 - charges a $30 yearly membership for the privilege of getting high in a private social setting. Members receive emails alerting them to the locations of club "meetings," like a recent St. Patrick's Day party hosted by a local bar, featuring marijuana-infused green beer.

Club 64 owner Robert Corry, an attorney, wants to open a bar where he can welcome members on a daily basis. "A marijuana club is exactly what the voters wanted," Corry said. "Colorado voters knew exactly what we were doing."

The Front Tea & Art Shop in Lafayette, about 20 miles north of Denver, offered "cannabis-friendly" evenings six nights a week at which customers over 21 were allowed to bring their own pot.

Owner Veronica Carpio said the cafe attracted 25 people a day - until last month, when Lafayette declared a moratorium on pot use at businesses. She's suing, arguing the city overstepped its authority.

Anyone who wanders up the stairs to the Stonegate's second-floor smoking lounge is charged a nominal fee - $1 a day to $20 a year - to become a member of the private club. To evade the smoking ban, there's no smoking allowed - only "vaporizing," a method that involves heating the marijuana without burning it. Call provides space in the lounge to the proprietor of a medical marijuana dispensary.

People who don't have a medical authorization have to bring their own pot, then rent a vaporizer - $10 by the half-hour - or pay to have one prepared for them. For $5, those who do have an authorization are offered various preparations of "shatter" - a hardened oil of powerful marijuana extract. Tacoma's code enforcement staff is reviewing Stonegate's operation.

Justin Nordhorn, the state liquor board's enforcement chief, has concerns, including the dangers of people drinking, toking and then driving.

But for now, he noted, there is a loophole in the board's ability to block bars from allowing pot use. Its rules require bars to address on-site criminal violations, but public use of marijuana is only a civil infraction - meaning officials can't necessarily punish bars that let people partake, even if police could come in and write tickets to customers.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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