GLENDALE – Colorado’s newest pot shop has some wondering whether strippers and weed are too closely aligned on a busy highway just east of downtown Denver.
The Smokin’ Gun Apothecary opened on a site formerly occupied by the Denver area’s best known strip club, Shotgun Willie’s. The strip club hasn’t gone away – it’s moved just across the parking lot, testing ethical and potentially legal issues about the state’s growing legal recreational pot industry.
Beyond banning the sale of pot and alcohol in the same shop, Colorado has no regulation regarding marijuana and other adult businesses. Zoning rules require shops to be away from schools or anywhere children congregate.
Colorado’s rules about using pot are hazier. The state bans public marijuana consumption. But the state allows local governments to decide whether to allow private pot clubs. Smokin’ Gun is preparing a rooftop lounge area in anticipation of a local ordinance to allow shoppers to toke up.
Both businesses have the same owner, who envisions pot shoppers getting discounted drinks at the strip club. Deborah Dunafon plans to sell mugs at the pot shop that customers can use for a free beer at the strip club. Colorado law bans the sale of both marijuana and alcohol at the same place, so there won’t be any alcohol flowing where weed is sold, she said.
Dunafon says there’s no reason to fear the strip club will break state law and allow her pot-shop patrons to get high next door in her strip club.
“It’s a wild, rowdy place, and if you smoke a bowl, you’re not exactly rowdy,” Dunafon said with a laugh.
She’s the only person in the country who owns both a legal weed shop and a strip club. It’s not exactly a first, though: a man in San Clemente, California, had to relinquish his stake in two nude clubs after pleading guilty in 2013 to running at least nine illegal dispensaries in Southern California.
The Smokin’ Gun scandals don’t stop at the common ownership with a strip club, though.
Deborah Dunafon’s husband, Mike Dunafon, is mayor of this tiny enclave of 4,500 surrounded on all sides by Denver.
The mayor last year cast the deciding vote on the Glendale City Council to approve the Smokin’ Gun site plan – a vote that prompted an ethics complaint by nonpartisan watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch.
Mike Dunafon had recused himself from the vote initially because of the potential for a perceived conflict of interest. However, when the vote was tied at 3-3, a city manager said the mayor was able to break the tie under Colorado statute, according to minutes from the meeting.
“This is a clear conflict of interest,” said Luis Toro, head of Colorado Ethics Watch. The complaint goes to the Glendale City Council, which could decide to reprimand the mayor. No date has been set for a vote.
Mike Dunafon insists the complaint is frivolous and points out that he wasn’t married to the strip club owner at the time.
“They were rookie council-people who just happened to say, ‘I don’t like marijuana,’” Mike Dunafon said. “I said, ‘You don’t get to not like marijuana. It’s a legal business.’”
City Council members later voted again on the proposal without Mike Dunafon, and two opposing council members changed their votes to yes for the Smokin’ Gun. The council members declined requests by The Associated Press to explain why they changed their minds.
Toro said his group isn’t taking issue with the pot shop, just the mayor’s participation in the vote. Even though the Dunafons weren’t yet married at the time, the mayor was living with the strip-club owner and should not have been making decisions about her shop, Toro argued.
“The concern isn’t about the shop opening. It’s about him voting” on a question that affects his girlfriend or wife, Toro argued.
A lawyer for the city of Glendale insisted that the Dunafons’ finances are separate and that the mayor did not violate ethics.
“He had no stake or financial interest in the Smokin’ Gun, and he was not married to anyone who had a financial interest in the Smokin’ Gun,” Jeffrey Springer said. “The allegation that he somehow shouldn’t have voted is ridiculous.”
Even if the council reprimands Dunafon, the pot shop is opening this week to some anticipation even in a city dotted with hundreds of pot shops.
The front door is flanked by two pillars shaped to resemble marijuana joints, complete with smoke effects.
Inside, shoppers can step inside the preserved interior of a bank that dates to 1870, a nod to the decade when the nation’s first anti-drug laws passed.