At Denver’s Coffee Joint, Cannasseurs Enjoy the Bean and the Leaf

Published on May 23, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020

In November 2016, voters in Denver approved an ordinance allowing the onsite social consumption of cannabis in licensed businesses. Since then, only one club has opened: The Coffee Joint, an inconspicuous storefront in a light-industrial section of Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

At this point, the only thing holding back cannabis consumption lounges in Denver is their limited profitability.

Earlier this month the City of Denver convened a task force to figure out why more businesses haven’t applied for social consumption licenses. Rita Tsalyuk, co-owner of both The Coffee Joint and the dispensary next door, 1136 Yuma, has an answer: It’s not easy to turn a profit. Her social consumption license doesn’t allow her to sell cannabis at The Coffee Joint—it’s strictly BYOC, (but you can purchase next door!)—so she sells accessories and snacks. Customers may vape and use edibles inside the shop, but combusting (smoking) is prohibited by Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

Other factors play a part. It’s hard to find a location where a business can open that is far enough away from schools and daycare centers. Stakeholders also told the city task force that prohibitions on allowing social consumption at businesses that already have a liquor licenses are also slowing down interest in licenses.

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At this point the only thing holding back social consumption businesses is the difficulty of the business itself. Back in February, no opponents of social consumption clubs spoke during a two-hour hearing. A representative for the Denver neighborhood where The Coffee Joint spoke in favor of the company at that hearing.

“I have visited the facility, I’ve had numerous conversations with the owners and we’re really pleased to have them in the community,” said Aubrey Lavizzo, a member of the La Alma Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association.

So were the club’s patrons, a few of whom we met during a recent drop-in.

Manhattan, Kansas, resident Nathan Bell, left, puts honey in his coffee while David Berkowitz fills out a form at the Coffee Joint in Denver. The establishment received the first social marijuana license in the country.

Coffee Joint manager Meredith Wharton greets patron Dan Snyder, who enjoys a vape pen. Due to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, only vaping and edibles are allowed.

Kristina Newsham checks out merchandise for sale.

“We want to be a good face for the community and the industry,” said co-owner Rita Tsalyuk, pictured here. “We’re trying to make it as perfect as it can be.”

Where coffee and cannabis meet: Pins for sale at The Coffee Joint in Denver.

Just allowing consumption isn’t enough to pay the rent. The Coffee Joint’s owners make the business work by owning the dispensary next door. Denver’s only other cannabis club application proposes a cannabis spa where customers can take yoga classes or receive massages with marijuana-infused lotions or oils.

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Daniel Brenner
Daniel Brenner
Daniel Brenner is a documentary and editorial photographer based in Denver. He's worked for a variety of newspapers and online publications around the country. He aims to capture serendipitous moments that surprise readers and celebrate the unfamiliar.
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