Denver voters approved marijuana use in businesses, passing Initiative 300. Now what?

It’s unclear how Denver officials and marijuana advocates will implement Initiative 300 allowing marijuana use in businesses.

Liz hits a joint at Chong's Choice launch party in RiNo. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Liz hits a joint at Chong's Choice launch party in RiNo. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Liz hits a joint at Chong’s Choice launch party in RiNo. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Denver officials and marijuana advocates have to start the tricky work of figuring out how to allow marijuana use in businesses after voters passed Initiative 300 last week.

Businesses that supported the idea of customers being allowed to consume cannabis at coffee shops, bars and other spots, don’t necessarily want the drug on their property. And the city still has to come up with a strategy for accepting and approving applications from the property owners that do want to participate in The new Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.

“It shouldn’t be seen as all of a sudden there’s going to be cannabis use in all of these businesses,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Initiative 300 campaign. “It will be that some choose to allow it, some of the time. Maybe there will be some that choose to allow it all of the time.”

Tvert and the campaign didn’t name any particular company that has volunteered to be the guinea pig on allowing marijuana in their shop.

“Many of these businesses that signed on to support 300 have no intention to get a permit or to allow consumption. But they supported this because they believe it’s the sensible thing to do,” said Emmett Reistroffer, campaign manager for Initiative 300.

That was the case for Scott LaBarbera, owner of The Oriental Theater.

“Although we supported the initiative, we have no plans to do anything right now,” LaBarbera said.

In theory, just about any kind of business that doesn’t sell marijuana could apply for a cannabis consumption permit under the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program. The program requires participating businesses to follow the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and prevent cannabis use from being seen from the public right of way.

It’s unclear when the program will officially get under way.

“We really feel we’ve made a good faith effort here to work with the city. That includes withdrawing a measure from last year’s ballot to give the city a full year to work on this,” Tvert said. “So at this point in time, we’ve provided a very clear framework and this is something they should be able to handle fairly quickly because this is a city that has a whole lot of experience in controlling the adult use of alcohol in private establishments.”

City officials have said that the new pilot program will be unlike any licensing process they currently have in place. That’s partly because businesses that want to allow cannabis consumption need the support of neighborhood organizations or business districts to obtain a license. That’s different than the requirements showing residents want a new liquor license in their community, said Dan Rowland, city spokesman.

Rowland and Mayor Michael Hancock said the divide between voters on whether social use of marijuana should be allowed means the city needs to be thoughtful in how the new program rolls out. As of Tuesday morning, 302,505 votes were counted — 53.3 percent of voters supported the measure and 46.7 percent opposed it.

Advocates of Initiative 300 said they will reach out to city council members, the mayor’s office and neighborhood groups going forward to get the program going.

“Voters have made it abundantly clear to city officials where they stand on this. And for the same reason these elected officials feel an obilgation to show up for work after these voters elected them, they should feel an obligation to implement this law after voters passed it,” Tvert said.

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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.