Colorado first legalized weed in 2012, and, half a decade later, Centennial State residents may finally get cannabis, yoga, massage – and karaoke – under one roof. If Cindy Sovine gets her way, she’ll open the Utopia All Natural Wellness Spa and Lounge, the nation’s first licensed cannabis spa, in Denver’s Capitol Hill area sometime at the beginning of June.
"The idea behind it is to give cannabis consumers and medical marijuana patients a place where they can access each other in a unique social environment," Sovine told MERRY JANE, "one they can't find anywhere else in the world, legally."
Sovine is no stranger to Denver's cannabis community, either. A former healthcare lobbyist, she switched to cannabis lobbying after witnessing marijuana's healing effects on her father who battled cancer. As a cannabis lobbyist, she successfully fought for Jack's Law, an amendment that allowed underage Colorado students who were also medical marijuana patients to access their meds while on school grounds.
So far, Sovine and her partners are planning a two-section venue at 1244 Grant Street. Anyone 21 or over would be able to walk in and enjoy Utopia's wellness spa, which offers THC-infused massages, acupuncture, and a line of hemp-derived beauty products. The other portion of Utopia will include a "consumption floor" reserved only for registered members. Members can participate in "ganja yoga" sessions, infused cooking courses, painting classes, and fully-lit karaoke.
For massages, THC-infused oils and creams will be provided by masseuses. For all other cannabis products — like dabs and joints — it's Bring Your Own, similar to other social-club models in the state.
Utopia is currently one of two businesses that have applied for Denver's I-300 permit to open a social use club. The other is a coffee shop off Yuma Court. Approved by voters in 2016, I-300 created a regulated system for private businesses to allow cannabis consumption on their property, so long as local neighborhood businesses and organizations gave their approval. Although most Denver-area businesses were disqualified for the permit after the city instated additional regulations, the program is slowly gaining traction once again.
Regarding the additional regulations, the leader of the I-300 campaign, Emmett Reistroffer, told MERRY JANE last year that the new restrictions came as a "surprise." "At one point, [the city] said we couldn't even be open to the public," he noted. "That was the goal of the entire initiative: to be open to the damned public."
"When I-300 came along, I rallied the medical marijuana patient community to support it as something that could provide a place of refuge for the patient community," Sovine said. "It passed, and I waited for that person to step-up and say, 'We're gonna do this!' And nobody did. So I figured I'd have to do it myself."
Public consumption and social use have been at the forefront of Colorado's cannabis legalization battles ever since Amendment 64 went live in 2014. That first year, entrepreneur Jane West held a social-use fundraiser for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra dubbed "Classically Cannabis." The city almost shut down her event but struck a compromise after she agreed to make it an invite-only affair. Since then, Denver's social-use clubs have all but closed their doors due to the city's interpretation that they violate the spirit of Amendment 64. Regulators have long-argued that Amendment 64 only allows private, personal use of cannabis, not private use in social settings – even though nothing in the amendment's language specifically bans social-use clubs or other private consumption events.
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A handful of pot clubs openly operate about an hour's drive south of Denver, in Colorado Springs. However, a city ordinance there will force the remaining clubs to close by 2025 unless the ordinance is repealed or a voter initiative overturns the city's rule. Clubs in the Springs have resorted to novel means of attracting clientele, since they're no longer allowed to offer cannabis to patrons.
Hopefully, if I-300 permits prove successful in Denver, Colorado may be able to keep its social-use model alive while literally rejuvenating patients and enthusiasts at the same time. Will stoned saunas be the clearest path towards cannabis clubs? Just maybe.
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