Social marijuana could hit Denver by July: Everything you need to know about the draft rules for businesses

Here’s what to keep an eye on as Denver’s rules for social cannabis consumption areas are finalized.

staff photo
Revelry at Chong's Choice launch party in RiNo. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Revelry at Chong's Choice launch party in RiNo. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

The committee tasked with shaping Initiative 300’s roll-out met for the final time last week. Now Denver officials can hash out the details of where people can consume cannabis throughout the city — and we already have a good idea of what’s up for discussion.

A draft set of rules for social consumption areas is expected to be released by April 25. Before they’re finalized, people will be able to weigh in May 25 at a public hearing, according to Denver Excise and Licenses.

The department responsible for licensing Denver’s pot shops hopes to start approving businesses to open social consumption areas as early as July.

I-300, 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.

Ashley Kilroy, who heads Denver Excise and Licenses, and her staff have their work cut out for them as they balance the concerns of neighborhood groups, health agencies and industry groups with the desires and demands of cannabis consumers, businesses looking to setup consumption areas and I-300 proponents.

Lead I-300 proponent and active legal marijuana advocate Kayvan Khalatbari told the Social Consumption Advisory Committee last week that the point of the initiative was to get marijuana treated more like alcohol. He said that the city cannot get in the way of that with restrictive rules.

If the city’s rules “frustrate” the intent of I-300, people like him are “going to continue to raise hell and make sure this gets implemented the way it’s supposed to,” Khalatbari said.

Khalatbari is currently a part of a suit against the state of Colorado over new rules that stop bars, restaurants and other liquor-licensed establishments from allowing any marijuana use.

Here’s what to keep an eye on as the rules are finalized:

How restrictive will social consumptions spots be?

Proposed rules would have businesses with social consumption permits display a sign or placard when customers are using marijuana inside. They also would have security checking IDs at entrances to usage areas. The city’s also looking at making people sign waivers or notices before entering. Those guidelines were generally accepted.

However, there was more debate over what should be done when a business wants to use only a portion of its property for marijuana use.

For example, a two-story bookstore could want to let people use pot upstairs, but keep its lower level operating as normal. In cases like that, some members of the Social Consumption Advisory Committee wanted to require there to be a separate entrance to the consumption area and/or making the entire establishment only available to those 21 and older when people are consuming.

Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman sits on the committee and said the separate entrance and age requirement would unfairly prevent a lot of businesses from opening consumption areas.

“Think of all the restaurants that have bars with people that drink and walk past children,” Susman said. “It doesn’t make any sense to limit it just because you’re going to walk past a child.”

Will vaping and smoking be allowed indoors?

People generally won’t be able to smoke joints, pipes, bongs or blunts at indoor social consumption spots due to the Colorado Clean Indoors Air Act. However, the act doesn’t specifically bar marijuana from being vaporized indoors.

The deputy executive director of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Karin McGowin, asked the city to consider making a rule that would ban vaporizing marijuana indoors, or at least close an exception that could allow indoor smoking in certain businesses.

“I believe a city can have more strict regulations than the Clean Indoors Air Act,” McGowin said. “There is a slight loophole in the Clean Indoor Air Act, and that’s if you have three or fewer employees, smoking is allowed. If vaping is a bottom line for folks, can we at least say no smoking inside, even if you have three or fewer in your membership organization?”

That proposal got push back.

“If they can’t do it inside, they’re going to do it outside and the neighbors are going to smell it. That is a much greater challenge than worrying about marijuana residue on the ventilation system of a room,” said councilwoman Kendra Black. “If people want to smoke marijuana inside, they should do it at their own risk.”

“This is what this initiative was for — to give people a legal space to consume marijuana — and if they can’t do it, they’re going to go back into the park, which is exactly what we don’t want,” she added.

Will marijuana be allowed in businesses with liquor licenses?

I-300 proponents intended for marijuana to be allowed at concert venues, restaurants and other businesses that might hold a liquor license. But a new state rule threw a monkey wrench in that plan by prohibiting liquor license holders from allowing customers to consume on their premises.

Denver could allow businesses to have consumption permits if they lock up their alcohol and “de-licence” parts of their properties where they intend to allow marijuana use. Under this option, businesses could not serve alcohol while allowing marijuana use.

Another less-likely option is for the city to allow businesses to restrict alcohol use on part of their premises — especially where people are using cannabis — while still serving drinks elsewhere. That essentially would let people “dual consume”— use weed and alcohol at the same time.

“We are currently under the marijuana microscope in this country, and we need to do this right the first time, so we do not support mixing the two together,” said Jordan Person, committee member and executive director of the Denver chapter of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Several committee members expressed similar views on dual consumption.  Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said her group would be OK with “marijuana night at the restaurant” events where alcohol is not served.

Where will outdoor consumption areas be allowed?

The city is considering keeping any outdoor consumption area at least 500 feet from residential districts. That means if a business wanted to allow people to use marijuana on its patio, the patio would have to be at least that distance away from areas that are predominantly comprised of homes.

What will Denver City Council do?

The council can start creating rules of its own around the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program starting in May. Those rules could make getting permits easier or more difficult by trumping what Excise and Licenses puts out.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at [email protected] or

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