‘Impossible to say’ when Denver will start allowing social marijuana use in businesses

Denver officials are drafting Initiative 300 rules now that would allow people to smoke marijuana in businesses throughout the city.

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

Denver officials are drafting rules now that would allow people to use marijuana in businesses throughout the city.

But 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,” Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell recently advised city council members in a memo.

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.

The city attorney’s office and excise and licenses department gave an update on implementing Denver’s new social use law Monday during a Special Issues Marijuana Committee meeting. A timeline presented calls for putting out application forms Jan. 21 and finalizing the rules and starting to issue permits in summer 2017.

“I don’t think it’s true we can make any rule we want if it’s silent in the ordinance,” Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech said Monday. “Where the ordinance is silent, rulemaking may step in, but there are limits to that rulemaking, which is frustrating the intent of the ordinance.”

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson said her office is coming up with “a menu of rules and regulations” that would comply with current laws and the intent of the initiative.

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.

“Bear in mind that the application must be accompanied by a statement of support (or non-opposition) from an eligible neighborhood association,” Broadwell wrote in his memo.

Businesses that apply will also have to pay $2,000 in fees, follow the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and prevent cannabis use from being seen from the public right of way.

Companies could also bump into rules that haven’t been created yet.

After the initiative passed, 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.

There’s a possibility the state could throw up other roadblocks going forward.

State law prohibits “open and public” consumption or use of marijuana. Both Colorado and Denver define a “public place” as somewhere where the public, or a substantial number of the public, has access.

“In looking at the implementation of Initiative 300, we’re going to have to be very aware that we can run into serious conflict with state law unless the cannabis consumption permits are limited to those locations that are not considered a public place,” Bronson said.

According to Broadwell’s memo, “Denver has been advocating for greater clarity on the state level for marijuana consumption laws since 2013 and will continue to do so. The prospects for any successful clarifying legislation in 2017 are unknown, however, particularly given split control of the legislature.”

If the legislators do hand down new rules, Denver will factor them into running the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.

“Our plan is to implement the will of the voters in the confines of the law,” said Ashley Kilroy, executive director of Excise and Licenses.

“If the law changes at the state over the next session, we’ll have to be adjusting our rules and regulations to make sure what we’re doing is still comporting with the law as it stands at that time.”

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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.