First of The Kind: Denver’s Emergence Into Public Cannabis Consumption

Late in 2016, Denver, CO became the first city in the United States to approve the consumption of Cannabis in public areas with the passing of a four-year pilot program called Initiative 300. Over 300,000 citizens rolled in – many procrastinating until the final hours (can’t say I’m surprised) – skewing polling results projected during the election. The polls are in – and tourists and renters alike are now celebrating in specifically-allocated venues – but the new laws didn’t come without some opposition and a few guidelines to follow.

Trial By Fire

Initiative 300 is a pilot program, meaning the laws are only in effect for a four-year trial period designed to determine the feasibility of such a plan. At the end of the four year period the program stands to be cut, but most likely will only see modifications to related laws and regulations. For now, Initiative 300 allows for rather limited access to enjoying your Cannabis products downtown.

Growing Demand

Legal Cannabis brought $700 million to Colorado last year alone; but despite staggering figures like these, state laws are just beginning to catch up to the new demand. Tourists to Cannabis-friendly states are often bewildered to find out (usually after dropping plenty of vacation money on reefer-infused soda pop and pre-rolled joints) that they don’t legally have a place to smoke their pot. Very few exceptions cater to the Cannabis crowd and charge profane amounts for overnight stays at Bong-and-Breakfast-style lodgings. Everybody else finds out very quickly that private residences are the only places allowed by law for consumption; but Initiative 300 changed that for Denver and acts as a precedent for other cities to follow.

A few Colorado dispensaries had previously tried several half-legal attempts at lounge-style venues that sold Cannabis to pre-aproved members but none survived the scrutiny of state law and opposing neighbors. Although Cannabis stores themselves may seem like an obvious choice for such a venue, dispensaries are still banned from on-site consumption – but almost any other business can apply.

Rules and Regulations Apply

Initiative 300 set up strict guidelines for businesses wanting to participate. Businesses of all sorts (dispensaries being the exception) can apply for annual or temporary licenses that would allow on-site consumption of Cannabis in very specific ways:

  • Consumption must be kept inside of over-age-21 restricted areas
  • Smoking is not allowed inside, but regulated to outdoor locations – a bane for any venue that doesn’t have a spacious porch
  • Vaporizing and edibles are allowed for indoor use but, again, the venues are not allowed to sell Cannabis themselves – a situation that could end up presenting some issues(or maybe just more Lyft drivers)
  • Businesses need approval from their city-registered neighborhood organization or business improvement district

The idea that you’d need a venue to enjoy edibles stumps me. I don’t see why anyone would have legal trouble for eating cookies or gummy bears. Pro Tip: don’t walk up to a cop and tell them yourself that you’re breaking the law.. With all of these strict guidelines to keep the sober happy, there is still a vocal opposition scrutinizing the progress.

Opposition

Rachel O’Bryan is the campaign manager for Protect Denver’s Atmosphere(dumb name, sorry), an organization that campaigned against Initiative 300. In their defense, they have a few good points. Kind of. O’Bryan and her posse cite amendment 64 – the addition to Colorado’s constitution that states we have the right to avoid incarceration for buying, selling, possessing or growing reefer plants. Amendment 64 states Marijuana will not be used “openly and publicly” and the opposition group claim that initiative 300 justifies such consumption. Some city officials agree, but I don’t.

Initiative 300 is set up to figure this sort of thing out. I would argue that a reasonable interpretation of “open and public” use would act to fine things like public nuisances and dangers – such as public intoxication and smoking on streets in populated areas. 300 does not endorse such behavior, but confines it to safe areas, away from the public – and minors – a concern with some legitimacy.

O’Bryans group also likes to state that Initiative 300 did not get the same overwhelming support that Amendment 64 did, but that seems a moot point. 53.4% of the voters agreed that state laws needed a change to allow for pubic venues described in the new bill.

Victory Garden

On the opposite side we find Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief Counseling and lead backer of Initiative 300. Khalatbari, of course, was thrilled at the election results, calling it “a victory for the city of Denver, its diverse neighborhoods and those who don’t consume cannabis, as it will reduce the likelihood that adults will resort to consuming in public.”

I have to agree. The influx of tax revenue that legal weed has brought this state has brought with it an incredible amount of Cannabis tourism. It’s perfectly legal by state law for anyone to come to Colorado and buy Cannabis – which is why it’s so insane that it’s taken this long for the discussion to get off foot. State law endorses the sale of the product but not the consumption – in fact, it penalizes it greatly. Initiative 300 presents the only exception. It allows tourists, renters, and medical smokers alike the first safe option ever presented to enjoy and medicate downtown and throughout the day.