Denver OKs public marijuana use after Initiative 300 passes narrowly

Denver voters decided to move Colorado’s experiment of treating marijuana like alcohol another step forward.

Man smoking marijuana. (Rafael Castillo/Flickr)
Man smoking marijuana. (Rafael Castillo/Flickr)
Man smoking marijuana. (Rafael Castillo/Flickr)

Denver voters decided to move Colorado’s experiment of treating marijuana like alcohol another step forward and OKed public consumption of the drug in certain spaces.

Advocates carried Initiative 300 to a narrow victory passing the ordinance with more than 53 percent of the vote as of Tuesday morning. Another 141,225 of the 302,505 votes — about 47 percent of votes — opposed the measure.

Votes from military and overseas residents might still remain uncounted. Results remain unofficial until the election is certified Nov. 22.

The tight race made the outcome of Initiative 300 too close to call in the days after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Nov. 8. The tightness of the race signals to city leaders that successfully implementing the new program could be a challenge.

“You have to hear what the public is saying and try to understand what that split means,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “But more importantly, we have to keep the overriding foundation that we started with, protect our communities.”

Instead of taking a stance on Initiative 300, Hancock opted to take a wait and see approach on whether residents wanted businesses to be spots for cannabis consumption. He said the city will have to balance providing a safe place for people who want to enjoy marijuana with those who don’t want to smell it and deal with it.

What happens now?

Initiative 300 passing means Denver will need to get a task force and the framework in place so that the city can start issuing licenses to businesses that want to allow the social use of marijuana on their property.

“The Office of Marijuana Policy will work with appropriate city departments to lead rulemaking for the city. Per charter, the City Council has the authority to impose additional restrictions or make other substantive changes to the ordinance starting in May,” said Dan Rowland, city spokesman.

Just about any kind of business other than a dispensary could apply for a cannabis consumption permit so that people could use marijuana in a designated consumption area within that business. Participating locations must follow the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which means tobacco businesses could allow smoking indoors, but other businesses could only allow smoking on patios that aren’t near the main entrance or visible from the street.

The business will need the support of a neighborhood organization or business district to obtain a license. The city doesn’t currently have a mechanism in place for getting that type of neighborhood approval for an application, Rowland said.

“Clearly, there’s nothing that’s truly analogous to this (program) in the city,” Rowland said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of firsts for how we implement this, which is what we’re used to dealing with marijuana.”

Rowland said he’s unsure when the city will start issuing licenses, but he doesn’t have any reason to think it won’t be sometime in 2017.

Once in place, pot-friendly locations will give tourists, people who live in federally subsidized housing, people whose landlords or HOAs don’t allow smoking and people who just want to consume somewhere other than the comfort of their living room a legal place to do so.

City officials are charged with studying how the law works until it sunsets at the end of 2020. The city can extend the pilot program after the law sunsets or kill the social use experiment early.

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Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia covers business and trends for Denverite. He's covered business for The Fort Collins Coloradoan and serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.