DENVER, CO-September, 2013: Derick Barbee smokes his free marijuana joints during a rally at Denver Civic Center Park, September 09, 2013. The joint handout is a demonstration to oppose new tax increases on marijuana. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

Denver police won’t actively seek pot-smoking scofflaws, chief says

Extra Denver police officers will be on hand to protect patrons of newly legalized recreational pot shops on Wednesday, but they won’t be actively looking to arrest them if they light up in public.

“I am not going to have a team of officers specifically going out looking for people smoking marijuana,” Police Chief Robert White said. “If we get complaints or run into it, we’re certainly going to investigate it. We have to balance our resources as it relates to addressing these issues.”

The legalization of recreational marijuana has created new gray areas for the police department, which is still wrangling with how strictly to enforce laws against public consumption of the drug. The City Council this month approved rules banning the display or distribution of marijuana on the 16th Street Mall or streets around it and in city parks.

White said he plans to issue a training bulletin by Wednesday reminding officers about the nuances of the new rules.

“If we get complaints, we’ll balance that with other priorities,” White said. “I’m interested in making sure that those retail shops that are going to open — we want to make sure that’s done in an orderly fashion.”

He told officers earlier this month that they would not be allowed to moonlight as uniformed security guards at marijuana shops because the drug remains illegal federally and “we need to see how this thing is going to evolve.”

City Council members have pressed the department to crack down on public consumption after officers stood by in September as scores of people smoked marijuana joints during a pot giveaway in Civic Center park. Police officials said at the time that they were acting based on lessons learned from 4/20 events, in which officers have kept the peace as tens of thousands of people smoked in the park.

“They should be a little proactive,” said Councilman Charlie Brown, who led a committee on recreational marijuana, adding that “I don’t envision people in riot gear” but he hoped officers would remind smokers of the rules if they observed them being broken.

“We didn’t pass the laws for them not to be enforced,” he said.

The department will have a list of which retail stores are opening on Wednesday and will provide extra patrols around them in the event of large crowds, White said.

“The officers working in those areas will be aware of those locations and will monitor the crowd from the outside,” he said.

Sadie Gurman: 303-954-1661, or

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