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Leading the way: Denver starts work on allowing public marijuana use, a first in U.S.

The Mile High City's at it again: A workgroup made up of Denver business owners, city regulators and opponents starts work on suggesting public marijuana use regulations

January 18, 2017

DENVER — Denver is starting work Wednesday on becoming the first city in the nation to allow marijuana clubs and public pot use in places such as coffee shops, yoga studios and art galleries.

Related: Next steps for implementing Denver’s social pot use law

Voters narrowly approved the “social use” measure last November. But the ballot proposal didn’t spell out many rules for how the marijuana could be consumed, beyond saying that the drug can’t be smoked inside and that patrons must be over 21.

A workgroup made up of Denver business owners, city pot regulators and marijuana opponents starts work on suggesting regulations in the afternoon.

The state Liquor Control Board already has decreed that no businesses with a liquor license can allow marijuana use. That leaves it to restaurants that don’t serve alcohol and other event spaces.

There’s no deadline for Denver to finalize rules. Supporters hope to see the city start accepting applications by this summer.

Emmett Reistroffer, a cannabis-industry consultant who ran last year’s campaign to allow public marijuana use, said the eventual regulations will require neighborhood approval for any pot clubs or coffee shops.

Reistroffer organized a recent public meeting about the measure and invited interested businesses, saying a few dozen showed up to find out more.

“There are plenty of places in Denver where you can find neighbors who want this kind of establishment,” Reistroffer said.

The organizer of the opposition campaign also is attending Wednesday’s meeting. Rachel O’Bryan said she’s concerned that businesses won’t be able to safeguard against intoxicated patrons driving home.

The measure does not allow participating businesses to sell pot, so they won’t have any control over what people are consuming. People would have to bring it in a form that does not require smoking, such as edibles.

“If you are neither serving nor counting the potency of the product, nor counting how much they consume, how are you protecting the public when they leave your property?” O’Bryan asked.

A bill to allow pot clubs statewide is pending at the state Legislature. The pot-club bill has bipartisan support but uncertain prospects, especially as Colorado and other legal pot states await word on whether Donald Trump’s administration will tolerate pot businesses in states flouting federal drug law.