A man uses a handheld vaporizer. (AFP/Getty Images file)

Initiative 300 in Denver: Everything you need to know about the social pot use measure

Colorado’s legal marijuana system isn’t without its paradoxes. Near the top of that list is public consumption, or “social use,” as it’s come to be known — and Initiative 300 in Denver aims to remedy this concern in the state’s largest city.

Since Jan. 1, 2014 those 21 and older have been buying legal marijuana, but many of those purchases have been consumed illegally. Most tourists and many residents don’t have access to a space where the legal consumption of cannabis flower, edibles or concentrates is allowed. A few small localities have licensed a small number of cannabis-only clubs, and consumption is also legal inside private residences with the permission of the homeowner.

But what’s a tourist to do? And what about Coloradans who can’t get high in their own residences for various reasons — such as condo associations that ban the substance’s use?

What is Initiative 300?

As The Denver Post’s Jon Murray wrote in October:

Initiative 300 would create a four-year pilot program allowing regular businesses, such as bars or cafes or even yoga studios, to seek permits for bring-your-own marijuana, over-21 consumption areas that are indoors (allowing vaping and edibles, but not smoking) or outdoors (allowing smoking).

But there’s a hitch: Applicants for annual or temporary permits would need backing from a single neighborhood group, such as a city-registered neighborhood organization or Business Improvement District. Those groups could set operating conditions in exchange for their support.

What is Initiative 300’s exact wording on the Denver ballot?

“Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance that creates a cannabis consumption pilot program where: the City and County of Denver (the “City”) may permit a business or a person with evidence of support of an eligible neighborhood association or business improvement district to allow the consumption of marijuana (“cannabis”) in a designated consumption area; such associations or districts may set forth conditions on the operation of a designated consumption area, including permitting or restricting concurrent uses, consumptions, or services offered, if any; the designated consumption area is limited to those over the age of twenty-one, must comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, may overlap with any other type of business or licensed premise, and cannot be located within 1000 feet of a school; a designated consumption area that is located outside cannot be visible from a public right-of-way or a place where children congregate; the City shall create a task force to study the impacts of cannabis consumption permits on the city; the City may enact additional regulations and ordinances to further regulate designated consumption areas that are not in conflict with this ordinance; and the cannabis consumption pilot program expires on December 31, 2020 or earlier if the City passes comprehensive regulations governing cannabis consumption?”

What are the arguments for Initiative 300?

“It’s a tourist issue, but it’s also a resident issue, when you think about the fact that a lot of people live in HOA- or landlord-controlled properties that don’t allow the use on-site,” Kayvan Khalatbari, a founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting who is also the lead proponent for the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, said on a recent episode of The Cannabist Show. “There’s folks that, veterans for instance, that live in federal housing or a lot of these places that disallow that use on-site.”

Those types of people then are consuming in places where they shouldn’t: in public spaces, on sidewalks and in parks, he says.

“When we talk about folks wanting to keep cannabis away from children, I would hope that they’d be in support of this, understanding that the only way that it’s going to get off the streets and out of parks and away from kids, is to take it inside and into regulated spaces,” Khalatbari said.

What are the arguments against Initiative 300?

Initiative 300 has drawn late organized opposition, under the name Protect Denver’s Atmosphere, from groups including Smart Colorado. They express concern the program would encourage more stoned driving, more mixing of pot with alcohol at bars that seek permits, and more public use of marijuana.

“By opening the door to marijuana use in any Denver restaurant, bar or other business, Initiative 300 will lead to an increase in drugged driving, threatening everyone on the roads,” Rachel O’Bryan, Smart Colorado co-founder and Protect Denver’s Atmosphere campaign manager, wrote in a Denver Post op-ed.

Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus recently spoke with O’Bryan.

Sitting in a downtown Denver park, someone nearby is smoking marijuana. As the smell wafts by, (O’Bryan) cracks a frustrated smile. Ostensibly, this is the kind of behavior that Denver’s ballot measure aims to prevent.

“But how will it be different if I’m walking down Colfax and a patio has marijuana being consumed on the other side of the fence, or if I’m in Lodo, and if you’re one floor up from the street level, you’ve got rooftop smoking, it’s the same thing,” O’Bryan says. “In fact, it will just be everywhere instead of limited to the 16th Street Mall or a central Denver park.”

How are newspaper editorial boards coming down on the issue?

The editorial board at The Denver Post, the state’s largest newspaper and The Cannabist’s parent company, is asking voters to approve Initiative 300.

And what about gripes from tourists who wish to try some legal Colorado weed, or taxpaying residents unable to use it at home because of pressures from family, condo associations, housing authorities and apartment rules? What about folks who want to enjoy getting high in the same way many imbibe alcohol together? Where are they supposed to go?

Thankfully, a four-year pilot program that would allow restricted use of pot in permitted Denver businesses might yield some relief for the problem of public use, and we ask that voters approve Initiative 300.

Should it work, Colorado’s capital city would provide a welcome solution for users to enjoy cannabis together, without harming the public. Should it run into problems, its language and intent allow for corrections along the way and also an exit back to the drawing board.

What are local politicians, groups saying about the measure?

The yes-on-300 campaign lists its political endorsements on its website — including the Democratic Party of Denver, New Era Colorado, Senator Irene Aguilar, Rep. Jonathan Singer and Lily Tang Williams for U.S. Senate.

But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Denver Post he would vote against the measure.

“I look at it as the camel’s nose getting under the tent flap. I don’t support it,” he said. As to whether Denver can ever move toward pot clubs, Hickenlooper said “perhaps in time — as we acclimatize ourselves to having recreational marijuana legal.”

According to Protect Denver Atmosphere’s website, the measure is opposed by former Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler and the Mile High Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association.