In this Oct. 2, 2016 photo, diners smoke marijuana as they eat dishes prepared by chefs during an evening of pairings of fine food and craft cannabis strains at a private invite-only dinner at Planet Bluegrass, an outdoor venue in Lyons, Colorado. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

Is smoking marijuana on your front porch “public use”? A lingering legalization debate in Colorado

The question of where you can consume cannabis in Colorado continues to stress lawmakers, even as the state approaches five years of legalization.

The state Senate and House approved different versions of a measure to define the prohibition on “open and public” consumption, and a panel of lawmakers failed Wednesday to strike a compromise just days before the legislative session concludes.

The sticking point is whether you can smoke marijuana on a front porch in public view — one of the most enduring debates since legalization in 2012.

“Welcome to the jungle,” quipped Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat and one of the negotiators. “This has been an issue that we have discussed and debated since the inception of Amendment 64.”

Senate Bill 184 would forbid marijuana consumption in any place where “a substantial number of the public” has access without restriction, such as a park or sidewalk. The latest version debated Wednesday took it a step further to prohibit consumption in “a place not protected from unaided observation lawfully made from outside its perimeter.”

Two House Democratic lawmakers expressed worry about banning pot on front porches, but state Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, suggested such protections are needed in certain areas.

“My concern continues to be that in urban and suburban areas property lines are so close that children walking up and down sidewalks that are not 15 feet from (a home),” he said. “And frankly it is a crime in Colorado to do a lot of things on your front porch, no matter how much you own that property.”

Sen. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat, said she supported the language. “I’m a child of the 60s so I am familiar with contact highs,” she joked, before turning serious: “But that leads to the impact on kids and I’m really concerned about that.”

Pabon and Rep. Mike Foote, a Lafayette Democrat and prosecutor, voted against the compromise version and blocked it from moving forward. Both sides pledged to keep working on the issue, but it remains unclear whether they can reach agreement before adjournment May 10.

Without the bill, the role of defining “open and public” will remain with local governments, said Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League. But he wants to see a statewide definition. “This is something we’d like the General Assembly to address,” he said.

Judd Golden, an attorney representing NORML, an organization that supports marijuana legalization, said property rights trump in this situation.

“We have a constitutional right here — we absolutely have private property rights and those should prevail over the possibility that someone might be offended” by marijuana, he said.

An earlier version of the legislation allowed local governments to regulate pot clubs, but that provision was stripped from the bill after facing opposition from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and others.

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