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)

Lead grows for social marijuana use Initiative 300 as Denver ballot count continues

Too many ballots remain uncounted to declare victory for Denver’s social marijuana use ballot measure, but its lead has continued to widen in updated results.

As of 7:30 p.m. Friday, 52.7 percent of voters have supported passage of Initiative 300, giving it a lead of 14,443 votes, or 5.3 percentage points. That compares with a narrower 1.3 percentage-point lead the measure had a few hours after polls closed Tuesday.

But the current margin was dwarfed by roughly 47,000 ballots that still remained uncounted, according to figures released by the Denver Elections Division. That was down from 90,000 remaining Thursday evening.

It has been dealing with a crush of ballots dropped off or voted in person the final two days of Tuesday’s election, which has drawn out counting. After taking off Friday for Veteran’s Day, election workers will resume ballot processing Saturday. The main count likely won’t be done until Monday at the earliest, spokesman Alton Dillard said.

That leaves Initiative 300’s outcome in limbo for a few more days — but its lead has been growing with each results update, giving backers reason for optimism.

“It’s great to see the percentage points tick up as the votes come in. We are pulling away in vote count … and it appears to be a long haul for the ‘No’ camp to come back at this point,” said lead organizer Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief Consulting, on Friday. “But we will wait for the Denver Elections Division to get through this holiday and this count to make it official before we celebrate.”

The organizer of an opposition group called Protect Denver’s Atmosphere noted that voters were proving less enthusiastic about the measure than for 2012’s Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana sales and use in Colorado. That constitutional initiative received support from 66 percent of Denver voters.

But opponents also were waiting for the counting to finish.

“Until then, I believe that we got out the message that the people who supported 64 (have) lost some of those supporters, because this is fundamentally different from what the word and the spirit of Amendment 64 was,” said Rachel O’Bryan, the group’s campaign manager. “This is public use,” and she sees Denver’s measure potentially conflicting with the state amendment — a point on which Initiative 300’s backers disagree.

The ballot measure would create a four-year pilot program allowing regular businesses, such as bars or cafes or even yoga studios, to seek permits for over-21 consumption areas accommodating customers who bring their own marijuana products. Those areas could be indoors (allowing vaping and edibles, but not smoking) or outdoors (allowing smoking).

First, applicants for annual or temporary permits would need backing from a single local neighborhood group, such as a city-registered neighborhood organization or business improvement district. That would allow the outside group to set operating conditions in exchange for their support.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com