Caiti Beckwith of Denver smokes a joint during the documentary "Reincarnated" at the Fillmore Auditorium in 2013. (Seth A. McConnell, Denver Post file)

Colorado venues balance pot-friendly attitudes with legal reality

A recent flier for a “4/20-friendly” comedy and burlesque show at Herman’s Hideaway featured marijuana-leaf logos, sponsorship from the Daily Doobie newspaper and a note that the “smokeout starts at 7:10 p.m., show at 8:30.”

The promise of consequence-free pot consumption is more than a marketing tactic, show co-organizer Cameron V. Humanity said. It’s a take-charge solution to the unresolved problem of public pot use in Denver.

“What the city wants is for it to not be used openly and publicly, and that’s why we do it inside,” said Humanity, a Denver comedian and co-owner of Sketchy Entertainment, the show’s promoter.

Whether it’s indoors or outside, marijuana use is prohibited in any space open to the public in Colorado, despite being approved for recreational sale and private use with the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012.

Some business owners say that creates a fundamental problem when trying to regulate cannabis like alcohol, as Amendment 64 was intended to do.

“We’re going to have a major nuisance issue once the new year comes because we’re allowing millions of people to theoretically come and purchase marijuana, but there’s no plan to consume it,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of the Denver Relief dispensary and a national cannabis consultant.

An increasing number of Colorado shows and concerts, from stand-up comedy to hip-hop and jam bands, are being promoted as marijuana-friendly โ€” with the implication that the staff will ignore any pot use, as has been the custom at many rock concerts for decades.

But the cloud of uncertainty remains potent thanks to the still-evolving laws and negative impact a complaint could potentially have on the venue’s liquor license.

“I can guarantee we’re not going to turn a blind eye to the laws the City Council passes,” said Sgt. Steve Warneke, a Denver Police Department spokesman. “But officers use their discretion when there’s the odor of marijuana at a concert venue, and a lot of (the law) isn’t clear right now. We’re starting from scratch.”

The 2006 Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits cigarette and cigar smoking in most bars, restaurants and venues, was amended this year to include marijuana smoking. Police in various cities and municipalities are charged with interpreting and enforcing that law.

In 2012, there were 24 complaints related to the Clean Indoor Air Act in Denver, according to Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson. That’s down from 48 in 2011 โ€” although year-to-date complaints are up slightly with 31.

“We really just take our chances on that,” Humanity said of his shows at Herman’s Hideaway.

In Denver, the fine for violating the Clean Indoor Air Act can run between $200 and $500, depending on the number of offenses, said Melissa Drazen-Smith, Denver assistant city attorney.

The real fear among business owners is that the Department of Revenue will revoke their liquor license if it determines they’ve run afoul of its terms โ€” although that has yet to happen to any bars solely for Clean Indoor Air Act violations, according to the Department of Revenue.

Colorado pot users both need and deserve an option for consuming it in public, said Denver Relief’s Khalatbari, who also co-owns the Sexy Pizza chain and sponsors various local comedy shows. Khalatbari envisions a future venue/restaurant where pot, pizza and stand-up comedy can all be consumed openly and simultaneously.

“There have been these clubs and cafes in operation ever since the law passed,” said Khalatbari, who produces an invite-only, 21-and-up show called Sexpot Comedy that allows open marijuana smoking. “There’s a need for these bars and venues to be consistent, so if they can get those two birds stoned at once, all the better.”

Khalatbari’s Sexpot brand, which is separate from his Denver Relief and consultancy dealings, is also sponsoring a new monthly comedy show at the Oriental Theater that launches Friday. Unlike his private shows, cannabis use there will not be openly encouraged.

But Oriental co-owner Scott LaBarbera said it won’t be actively discouraged either.

“We try to be reasonable about it. This is Colorado, and we run a music venue. To say we don’t allow it is ridiculous,” LaBarbera said. “Nobody is shocked that there are people smoking pot at a music concert. I think if people do it at a comedy show, they’re a little more discreet.”

A New Year’s Eve show at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom with members of hip-hop’s Wu-Tang Clan, for example, is expected to be an hours-long marijuana smoke-out.

“I won’t lie to you and say it doesn’t go on,” said a manager at Cervantes, who declined to give his name after answering the phone. “But it’s not officially tolerated.”

“I also wouldn’t say we’re letting people do it, but if it happens, it happens,” Herman’s Hideaway manager Chris Thomas said. “We’re not pro-marijuana, but we’re friendly as long as we don’t see or smell it being used on the property. We’re not the police.”

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