By Marijuana Industry Group (MIG)
A Denver initiative allowing consumption of marijuana in designated areas was recently validated and will make it to the ballot this November. The initiative, known as “City of Denver Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program”, would be the first of its kind formally permitting social consumption of cannabis.
The initiative’s petitioners see it as a first step in creating a more practical realization of cannabis legalization. Under current adult use laws, residents and visitors over the age of 21 can legally purchase cannabis from licensed recreational marijuana facilities. Adults living in Colorado may also grow six cannabis plants. However, consumption is permissible only in private residences, and is not allowed in public areas, businesses or parks.
This presents challenges for adult cannabis users legally existing under Colorado’s constitutional Amendment 64. More than 50% of Denver residents live in residences they do not own, where consumption in their home is determined by landlords and leasing companies.
Additionally, the record 16.4 million tourists who came to Denver last year had few options when seeking cannabis-friendly lodging from which to legally consume. A study from the Colorado tourism office stated that 23% of tourists were positively motivated to visit by legal weed.
If passed by voters, the Denver initiative seeks to help resolve the issue. It proposes a pilot program that would enable a business with community support to permit consumption within designated areas at their establishment. Participating businesses would be required to conform to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and existing zoning restrictions currently applied to marijuana businesses. Use would be limited to places where adults 21 and over congregate, and would be prohibited within sight of public right of ways, or where children congregate.
“To allow neighborhoods the ability to slowly step into this new territory, the proposed permits could be issued for a short duration of time, such as for a single event, allowing for a phased integration of this program that adjusts to current unknowns… Neighborhood organizations can be as conservative as they wish on the front end to ensure all resident and business concerns are addressed as a condition of the permit, most likely through a good neighbor agreement or other management standards agreement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, one of the program’s originators.
Successful passage of the Denver initiative would create a legal environment for public cannabis consumption, similar to what bars offer for consumers of alcohol. For some local cannabis business owners, public safety is a concern. “We have to make sure that these don’t become a clearinghouse for black market sales. Our company was built on providing clean, organic products in the marketplace. We can guarantee that to our customers. Who’s protecting customers from using pesticide-ridden unsafe cannabis from outside of the regulated market?” said L’Eagle dispensary owner Amy Tancig Andrle.
Representative Jonathan Singer is evaluating social consumption models that would create regulation and enforcement controls across Colorado. Singer believes the tenet of an effective state model would be regulation of the cannabis supply, which is not a consideration in the Denver initiative. He is examining a structure that would contemplate a tasting room concept serving regulated cannabis product with local control, and ultimate ability for local municipalities to veto social use should they desire. “I don’t want a ‘bring your own’ model. There are too many moving parts. For other environments, that’s okay, but not for this,” said Singer. Singer would also consider ways to include the medical marijuana community, because “some people can’t consume in their homes.” Singer has proposed similar concepts in previous legislation, and intends to identify a workable model to assist with Colorado municipalities currently struggling to solve the consumption issue.
The State of Colorado became the first (a technicality due to time zones) state to legalize marijuana in November 2012 with the passage of Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment legalizing adult use of marijuana following an alcohol regulatory model.
In 2015, 60 Minutes identified Denver as the epicenter of Iegalized marijuana. If historical precedent serves as an indicator, the Denver initiative and any prospective statewide legislation would likely provide guidance for other municipalities and states seeking to address similar concerns. “With having already legalized social consumption, and California and Nevada both having it as components of their legalization initiatives this fall, if Colorado intends on continuing to be the thought leader on cannabis reform policy, we must act now,” said Khalatbari.
MIG has not taken a position on the measure but agrees that we all need to find a solution to the issue of where to legally consume marijuana.