Activists in Colorado are pushing to allow marijuana use at bars and other establishments that prohibit minors under 21.
The same advocates who fought for legalization in the state now want voters to decide whether cannabis should be allowed in public in Denver. Proponents call it “limited social marijuana consumption” at bars.
They’ll need roughly 5,000 voter signatures before they can put the issue on the citywide ballot in November. Volunteers are busy collecting the signatures, which are due in August.
Under the proposal, bars, clubs, and other over-21 businesses in Denver could allow marijuana consumption as long as they abide by clean-air laws and require users to bring their own supply. Tobacco laws would apply, so the cannabis would have to be edible or smoked on an outdoor patio shielded from public view.
“Marijuana’s now a legal product for adults in Denver, and it’s really time that we give adults a place to use it legally and socially,” said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project. “We shouldn’t be requiring that you sit at home if you choose to use marijuana as an adult.”
Colorado law limits public marijuana consumption
Colorado voters legalized cannabis in 2012, and the drug went on sale early last year. The law prohibits users from consuming marijuana “openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.”
But the law leaves open the possibility of private over-21 cannabis clubs. The Denver ballot initiative would officially sanction the businesses, some of which already operate without licenses.
Consumption is banned at marijuana dispensaries, so the clubs wouldn’t be able to sell the drug. Instead, users would bring their own.
Two Colorado cities, Pueblo and Nederland, already allow private cannabis clubs, and they’re illegal but tolerated in Colorado Springs, yet the idea hasn’t caught on statewide. The vote in Denver could change that.
Model could inspire other states
The idea could provide a working model to other places with legal marijuana. Each of the four states that has legalized, along with the District of Columbia, prohibits any public use.
The Denver City Council recently voted to reject marijuana bars, but activists hope voters will feel differently. The city continues to conduct sporadic raids against underground clubs, making arrests and issuing citations for public consumption.
The crackdowns hurt the tourism industry most, marijuana proponents say. Visitors to Denver have no place to legally use the cannabis they buy.
Officials with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra tried to launch a marijuana-themed concert series in 2014, but Denver officials blocked them, declaring the events public. Organizers were forced to tightly limit admission to comply with the city’s requirements.
Jane West, the events organizer behind the concerts, was arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor last year for organizing a cannabis-friendly brunch at a local bakery. She was one of the first people to sign the Denver petition.
“An eight-person SWAT team descended on the event and shut down the brunch,” West said.