Denver voters could decide how public marijuana use should be

Denver voters could see two questions about using marijuana in public on the ballot.

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

Man smoking marijuana. (Rafael Castillo/Flickr)

Two groups pushing for Denver to let people get high in public say they have enough support to put ballot questions before voters in November.

If both ballot measures have enough valid signatures, Denver voters would decide if, how and where people could legally smoke outside private homes.

The Denver Approved Cannabis Consumption Committee wants to create a pilot program — it would sunset in 2020 unless extended by City Council or another voter initiative — to allow the creation of small consumption areas for marijuana. Just about any existing business could create a consumption area provided it was restricted to people 21 and older and not visible to those outside the restricted area. They would be regulated similar to bars and would need the approval of a registered neighborhood association as part of the permit process.

That’s in contrast to Responsible Use Denver’s plan to only allow people to get high in public if they’re at a private cannabis club. These clubs couldn’t sell marijuana, alcohol or food other than snacks.

Responsible Use Denver is backed by the Denver chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The group turned in its petition signatures Monday to get on the ballot.

“We’re trying to reduce the number of people smoking on the street,” said Priscilla Solis, spokeswoman for Denver NORML.

Cannabis clubs would be places for tourists to get high, as most hotels are smoke-free, and an option for renters not allowed to have marijuana in their homes, Solis said.

But those clubs would continue to keep marijuana use separate from the rest of society, according to the Denver Approved Cannabis Consumption Committee, backers of the other measure, dubbed the Neighborhood Approved Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program.

The committee led by marijuana consultant Kayvan Khalatbari and others involved Denver’s cannabis industry turned in its petition signatures Friday.

Their initiative would allow the consumption areas to be studied by the city through 2020 as part of a pilot program.

State law doesn’t allow cannabis to be consumed at marijuana businesses themselves.

The Denver Elections Division has 25 days to verify that the groups each gathered at least 4,726 valid signatures. There’s a possibility we won’t know if questions made the ballot until Labor Day, said city spokesman Alton Dillard.

The city doesn’t know yet what would happen if both measures passed, Dillard said.

“That’s still being noodled over,” he said. “(We’re putting the) cart before the horse since nothing has made ballot or passed.”

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

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