It’s happening: Denver plans to allow full-strength beer and wine in Denver parks

It’s about to get easier to drink in the parks.

Cheesman Park on a lovely winter day, March 3, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cheesman Park on a lovely winter day, March 3, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

After months of suspense and a bit of confusion, Denver’s parks and recreation leaders have proposed new rules about drinking in city parks.

Drumroll, please…

Yes, you’ll be allowed to freely and publicly drink full-strength beer and wine in Denver’s parks starting next year under a new policy announced by the parks department.

Currently, only the weaker “3.2” beer can be consumed in parks, but that rule had to change because of the details of a new state law about beer in grocery stores.

“State law passed the baton to municipalities,” said Fred Weiss, finance director for Denver Parks and Recreation. “What we are proposing is to allow beer and wine. No hard alcohol whatsoever.”

Glass bottles still won’t be allowed, which means you’d be drinking boxed wine. “But I’m told that it’s much better quality now,” said Happy Haynes, executive director for parks and recreation.

The new policy has to go for a review before an advisory board, but the decision is up to Haynes. It could be in effect by Jan. 1, according to a parks spokesperson.

In an interview, Haynes said that the decision was based on feedback that the department heard during a months-long outreach process.

The new policy will expire after one year, which will allow the city to “carefully monitor” its effects, she said.

“But we don’t anticipate a huge change in behavior,” she said. “Many people weren’t aware of the rules in the first place.”

The normal laws about public intoxication still apply.

The new policy also changes the rules for events with alcohol.

Right now, different alcohol is allowed at events in different parks, and some parks don’t allow alcohol-serving events at all. The new policy would iron that out and allow more liberal drinking.

“We would like to remove all of the distinctions and difference between what can be served at what park,” Weiss said.

“Beer, wine, champagne, spirits, liquor” would be allowed at any event, as long as the event has the proper city permits, he said. (That includes an alcohol permit from excise and licenses.)

“It’s not going to be easy,” Haynes said. “You have a lot of hoops to go through.”

Beer would still be allowed at athletic events such as softball games, but participants would generally have to bring their own — no selling allowed.

The policy would be temporary, also lasting only one year, so the city could measure its impacts.

Here’s how council reacted.

Councilman Wayne New asked whether the policy would encourage more driving under the influence. He’s especially concerned about marijuana use and driving, he said.

Haynes said the city would continue to enforce its marijuana rules in the parks, but she acknowledged that it isn’t “an aggressive enforcement,” because the department doesn’t have the manpower.

“It is behavior that drives a lot of our enforcement priorities. If what you’re doing is leading to disruptive and negative behavior, then we’re going to be on top of that, and that’s where we’ll focus our enforcement activities,” she said.

Council President Albus Brooks said the change is “modernizing” the rules. “I know my constituents are appreciative,” he said.

Councilman Rafael Espinoza asked whether the city should be considering public consumption and events separately. Councilman Jolon Clark and Councilman Kevin Flynn said the one-year trial would ease some people’s fears.

“I think it will be well received,” Flynn said, praising parks’ efforts to listen to residents.

The public consumption change comes after some back-and-forth. A parks spokesperson previously said that the new policy might not allow any public consumption, and that Denver City Council would have to make the decision, but the city has since received more information on state law.

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