A cheer goes up among supporters of Initiative 300, the Neighborhood-Supported Social Cannabis Consumption Initiative, as they listen to polling updates during an election night watch party at downtown Denver bar El Charrito. (Andy Colwell, The Cannabist)

Initiative 300: Denver’s social marijuana use measure too close to call in early returns

Denver’s vote on Initiative 300, the measure meant to permit limited cannabis consumption inside certain businesses, was too close to call in early returns Tuesday evening.

With nearly 46 percent of the projected vote counted at 10 p.m., the yes vote was leading with 94,462 votes, or 50.6 percent, to the no vote’s 91,997 votes, or 49.3 percent.

“It’s pretty much what I thought it would be,” Kayvan Khalatbari, a founding partner of Denver Relief Consulting who is also the lead proponent for the initiative’s Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, told The Cannabist late Tuesday. “I’m very happy that we’ve made the progress that we have with a very grassroots initiative.”

A representative with the campaign opposing the initiative noted how close the vote is compared to when Denver voted on the pot-legalizing Amendment 64 in 2012.

“I would like to see us ahead at this point,” said Rachel O’Bryan, Smart Colorado co-founder and Protect Denver’s Atmosphere campaign manager. “But Denver passed Amendment 64 with 66 percent of the vote, and now they’re eking out a win (on Initiative 300) with 1 percent. It tells me that Denver residents are getting fed up with the direction the industry is trying to go in. The people who supported Amendment 64 aren’t 100 percent behind this. They bought the promise that (marijuana use) would be conducted privately, not openly and publicly.”

For nearly three years anyone 21 and older has been able to purchase legal marijuana — but 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 — but only with the permission of the homeowner.

Initiative 300 would create a four-year pilot program in Denver allowing regular businesses, such as bars, cafes or art galleries, to seek permits for bring-your-own-cannabis, 21-and-over consumption areas that are indoors (for vaping and edibles) or outdoors a certain distance from public spaces such as sidewalks (for smoking).

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.

Initiative 300 was endorsed by the Democratic Party of Denver, Sen. Irene Aguilar and Rep. Jonathan Singer. But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Denver Post he would vote against the measure.