Denver marijuana rules for social consumption areas mostly supported in public comments

Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses will have to decide which group if any it will listen to as it finalizes its rules later this month.

Residents listen to a gather for a public hearing on the draft rules for social cannabis consumption areas, June 13, 2017. (Courtesy of Denverite Now podcast host Paul Karolyi )
Residents listen to a gather for a public hearing on the draft rules for social cannabis consumption areas, June 13, 2017. (Courtesy of Denverite Now podcast host Paul Karolyi )
Residents listen to a gather for a public hearing on the draft rules for social cannabis consumption areas, June 13, 2017. (Courtesy of Denverite Now podcast host Paul Karolyi )

A large number of people who weighed in during the last 30-plus days on Denver’s draft rules for social consumption areas were supportive of the city’s plan for regulating marijuana use in businesses and at events, asking for only a few tweaks and clarifications.

However, a contingent of Initiative 300 backers called the proposed rules too restrictive while other residents, particularly from the Washington Park West neighborhood, said they are not restrictive enough.

Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses will have to decide which group if any it will listen to as it finalizes its rules later this month. The city hopes to start reviewing and approving applications for social cannabis consumption areas and events starting in July.

Prior to a public hearing on the rules Tuesday, Molly Duplechian with the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy said the city received about 70 comments on the rules. More than half were supportive of what was proposed, Duplechian said.

There has to be a compromise, said Margie Valdez, zoning and planning chair for the Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation.

“In my honest opinion, I think these rules are fair for both the (designated consumption areas) and the supporters of the initiative. And they’re fair for the neighborhoods,” Valdez said.

Earlier this year, Denver officials worked with Valdez and other residents on shaping I-300’s roll-out. The initiative, in a nutshell, 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. If approved, a business owner can set up space for people to use marijuana in their business. The pilot program ends in 2020 at which time it can be extended, become permanent or fade out altogether.

The campaign director of I-300, Emmett Reistroffer, also weighed in on rule recommendations for the pilot program. He was clearly frustrated with the outcome Tuesday.

“What we’re approving today is far from what the voters approved six months ago,” Reistroffer said. “When I read the rules today, we can’t even get off the ground. I literally know of one business owner in the crowd tonight who might be able to get a permit and that’s if we’re lucky and there are maybe some changes to these rules.”

In all, 13 issues were raised by those from the campaign for I-300 in a letter to the city. They boil down to allowing businesses that sell alcohol to also allow cannabis use on the premises as long as patrons aren’t consuming them at the same time in the same area, taking another look at where social consumption areas can be located and not making the areas overly difficult for adults to get into.

“I’m eager to see who is going to be able to pull off a permit. I am going to apply for one myself, and it’s going to be very difficult,” Reistroffer said. “It’s going to be very difficult in just three years to convince an investor or property owner that they should spend thousands of dollars on a ventilation system, building walls around patios, having a full-time security guard at the front door to check IDs — to do what? To sell coffee for $2 a cup? These places can’t sell cannabis.”

Residents from Washington Park West weren’t all that sympathetic to Reistroffer’s plight. In April, a so-called pot church opened in their neighborhood at 400 S. Logan St. giving them an early view of what a social consumption area might look like.

“We’ve seen first hand kind of what happens when social use mixes in a residential area. That’s why I’m here tonight,” said Sheliah Reynolds. “I’m here to ask that the committee carefully consider the language provided by the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association to better protect residential neighborhoods. And not just my neighborhood but really all Denver neighborhoods.”

The vice president of the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association, Sherri Way, said the association was overall supportive of the rules. But the group wants a 500-foot buffer between designated consumption areas, particularly outdoor DCAs, and the nearest residential zone.

Even if Excise and Licenses staff decides to ignore the neighborhood association’s  and I-300 backers’ requests, it’s possible Denver City Council would listen. The council could start creating rules of its own around the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program in May.

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

Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here.

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.