Colorado Municipal League plans bill that could cripple cannabis use in Denver businesses

Consuming cannabis in restaurants and bars throughout Denver could continue to be a pipe dream if the Colorado Municipal League gets its way.

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)

Consuming cannabis in restaurants and bars throughout Denver could continue to be a pipe dream if the Colorado Municipal League gets its way.

The group that represents 99 percent of the cities and towns throughout the state plans to introduce a bill during the 2017 legislative session that would finally define what the “open and public” consumption of marijuana means, said Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League.

“It’s not quite ready for prime time yet,” Bommer said. “We don’t have a bill draft finalized or sponsors lined up.”

The general plan is to look to an early version of a 2013 bill and define “open and public” as any place the general public has access to without restriction. That includes bars, restaurants, concert venues and numerous other places the backers of Initiative 300 pitched as possible public consumption spots.

“If I can walk into a business and anyone else can” then marijuana can’t be consumed there, Bommer said. “I’ve been asked a couple of times if I think this would impact private clubs where they’re allowed to exist. I absolutely don’t because by definition they’re not accessible to the general public. You can only enter one of those establishments with permission, by membership or through some other means.”

The Colorado Municipal League’s bill is also expected to ban private marijuana clubs throughout the state where cities, towns and counties don’t specifically allow them. Denver failed to put a measure on that 2016 ballot that could have allowed private cannabis clubs in the city.

Denver already has laws on the books to prevent people from smoking marijuana in parks and other public areas. The league’s bill could create a statewide standard for where consuming marijuana is and is not allowed.

“Unless a municipality drafts an ordinance and defines it there is no standard for determining whether you can stand out on a street corner and consume marijuana. There’s also no associated criminal penalty for any violation or infraction,” Bommer said. “It’s essentially the wild west.”

The intent of Initiative 300

Denver voters signaled in November they want to try letting people use cannabis in businesses by passing Initiative 300 with 54-to-46 percent of the vote.

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

The new law is already off to a shaky start after the Liquor Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue said a business could have either a liquor license or a permit for social marijuana use — not both. The Colorado Municipal League’s legislation could take another huge bite out of what Initiative 300 was intended to do.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Initiative 300 campaign, said he didn’t know enough about the bill to comment Thursday.

Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell informed city council last month that it’s “impossible to say exactly how soon permits will actually be issued and how soon any permitted premises will actually be up and running.” Application forms are expected to be released Jan. 21 with permits starting to be issued in summer 2017.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

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Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.