Former political lobbyist Cindy Sovine talks to Moneyish about her plans to set up a 420-friendly lounge in Denver and the impact Jeff Sessions could have on the pot business
It’s high time to hit the spa.
Denver may soon be home to what’s billed as America’s first licensed marijuana spa after Cindy Sovine recently filed papers for such an outfit in the capital of Colorado, where recreational pot is legal. The 38-year-old plans to open Utopia All Natural Wellness Spa and Lounge in an 18th century mansion a stone’s throw away from the state capitol. If Utopia is approved by local authorities, it will offer massages using oils infused with THC or CBD strains, “ganja yoga” sessions and even a communal lounge where potheads can smoke up.
Sovine was working as a lobbyist for the healthcare industry when her father fell ill with terminal lymphatic cancer. Her mom got him on medical marijuana and “I watched that help his ability to function and manage the pain significantly,” she tells Moneyish. His death sent her into a midlife crisis that prompted her to lobby pro bono for the local medical marijuana industry. “I found my tribe and became very motivated to create a safe space for patients to learn about what they’re doing,” she says, adding that recreational users will also be welcome at Utopia.
Of course, people in the Mile High City have long been able to get marijuana spa-like services. Grey area use, like having a private massage therapist with access to cannabis-infused oils, “occurs all the time,” Sovine says. “But we’re first of the kind from a regulated standpoint.” That means being able to openly offer house brand marijuana products and dining options like CBD-infused lattes and kombucha.
Though Denver has a reputation for being 420-friendly, Sovine still had to deal with many hoops before submitting a license. In accordance with local regulations, Utopia will not actually sell consumable marijuana. Its proposed location couldn’t be next to schools or childcare centers and it had to provide plans on preventing patrons from impaired driving. “It took a really long time to develop but I think it can be a model for the country on what a regulated, social use business will look like,” Sovine says.
Utopia is still working out its price list, though Sovine said they would be in line with what high-end spas typically cost. (Access to the designated smoking area will require signing up for a membership.) She thinks it will cost around $1 million to get everything up and running, though Sovine says she’s gotten a lot of interest from industry players since her plans became public. She hopes to open Utopia by June 1, but it remains to be seen how long the city will take to approve her license.
Sovine is also operating in a national environment that has become less friendly to marijuana. Under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the federal Justice Department rescinded a directive that instructed prosecutors to not prioritize targeting businesses like pot dispensaries. (The U.S. Attorney for Colorado, who has some prosecutorial discretion, has said the status quo will continue in the state.)
But Sovine says that she’s not worried. “I have a level of protection that most don’t because I do not sell, manufacture or distribute marijuana,” she says. “I’m just operating a private business that allows members to bring their own cannabis. If Jeff Sessions successfully shut down [the pot industry] tomorrow, people still have the constitutional right to cannabis. They’ll just grow it at home and bring it here.”
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