The Campaign for Limited Social Use delivered two cartons, containing what they said were more than 10,700 petition signatures in favor of placing a marijuana consumption initiative on the November ballot, to the Denver Elections Division on Aug. 10, 2015. (Jon Murray, The Denver Post)

Social pot use: Denver ballot initiative gets 10K signatures

Arguments continue between activists and city officials over Denver marijuana laws for pot consumption

Whether Denver voters in November will face a choice about allowing patrons to use marijuana in bars and some other businesses wasn’t in dispute Monday, though ballot certification still could be weeks away.

Instead, the city attorney’s office and the initiative’s backers, who said they turned in more 10,700 petition signatures — more than twice as many as needed — continued to air a longstanding debate. It centers on state law’s prohibition on using marijuana “openly and publicly” and if that law would trump any local decision to allow vaping or edibles inside privately owned (but publicly accessible) bars or other establishments.

“The adoption of the initiated ordinance in Denver will create a serious conflict with state law, and may prompt the General Assembly to address the subject of public consumption of marijuana on a statewide basis as early as the 2016 session,” assistant city attorney wrote in a new memo sent to the City Council on Monday.

But Christian Sederberg, an attorney helping to lead the Campaign for Limited Social Use, said state lawmakers’ lack of action has purposely left the door open for local decision-making.

“The city of Denver redefined ‘public,’ ” he said, by allowing cannabis consumption on private residential property but not making some allowance for use in businesses. He contends that definition runs afoul of the state constitution as amended by Colorado voters in 2012, when they legalized recreational marijuana.

“Instead of litigation and going through a process where there could be a finding that any sort of enforcement on this in a public setting would be inappropriate,” he said, “we are trying to move forward in a responsible way — working with city officials, working with interest groups that have a stake in this and trying to address this issue head-on, instead of waiting for there to be more problems than there already are.”

Supporters of the proposed initiative, including Sederberg’s fellow Amendment 64 backer Mason Tvert, say it would discourage conspicuous use of marijuana on public streets and in parks by providing places for responsible use, away from children.

The changes also would give tourists who come to Colorado to purchase recreational marijuana a way to consume it legally, they said.

While some other cities and counties in Colorado have experimented by allowing private marijuana clubs, Denver’s initiative would be more expansive. It would give many business owners the choice of allowing vaping and consumption of edibles inside if they are restricted to areas where only adults 21 and older are allowed. Smoking could be allowed only outside, at least 25 feet away from public property. The businesses could not sell marijuana, however — the rule would be Bring Your Own Weed.

While expressing concerns about some of its components, the new memo from city legal doesn’t take a position on the initiative.

Denver Elections spokesman Alton Dillard said the division has 25 days to verify petition signatures, or until Sept. 4. To qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot, the initiative petitions must contain verified signatures from at least 4,726 registered Denver voters.

This story was first published on The Spot blog