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Denver should move forward cautiously on social pot consumption

November 16, 2016

Here we go again, standing on the precipice of another first.

Denver voters gave the green light this election for business owners in the city to start allowing consumption of bring-your-own cannabis on their premises.

Because we’re the first in America to go down this road, we don’t know what to expect. Green-light districts could pop up around the city, sprinkled with pot-friendly coffee shops, bars, restaurants and yoga studios. These places could be concentrated or spread out, overt or subtle, indoors or outdoors and permanent or temporary.

It’s going to be fun to watch.

We supported Initiative 300 before the election and we are glad it passed.

The initiative was easy to support, in part because it put forward a pilot program that will sunset in four years without the express wishes of City Council members to extend it. If things aren’t working out, the permits for public consumption will disappear.

But the margin of approval was much narrower than the margin that voters in Denver supported legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. The public consumption initiative passed with 53 percent of the vote, while 66 percent of Denver voters said “yes” to Amendment 64.

There are still thousands of ballots remaining to be counted, so the total could change. But as the result stands, it is really more of a yellow light for the city as it moves forward with this new experiment.

The implementation now falls on officials at the City of Denver who will begin making rules for marijuana consumption permits.

Daniel Rowland, communications adviser for Denver, said the city can go through a formal rule-making process with hearings and public comment on their plans, or it can implement an emergency rule. Much of that work will be done by the Department of Excise and Licenses, which also handles retail marijuana licenses.

Either way, we hope city officials take a cautious approach as they move forward with this experiment, and we are encouraged they will.

“The city is going to approach this the same way it has approached marijuana ever since Amendment 64 passed, which is to take a good hard look at all of this and implement it very carefully,” Rowland said.

A formal process would allow more room for those concerned their neighborhood might be adversely impacted by these new consumption areas to get involved early and help shape the guardrails put on permits. Businesses must get approval of at least one neighborhood organization or business district in order to receive a permit. That permit can contain restrictions on when, where and how cannabis is consumed at a location.

But right now Denver is struggling with a public consumption problem — some who want to consume have no place to go, legally. It’s a problem that should get solved sooner rather than later, now that voters have spoken.

The Denver Post’s Jon Murray reported Wednesday that opponents of the measure are concerned it may conflict with Colorado’s constitutional ban on open and public consumption of marijuana. Rowland said the city is looking into that. We don’t recall public consumption being very well defined in the Constitution, which bodes well for those seeking to define it to mean public streets and parks and not businesses.

We think going over this ledge will be a good fall for Denver and the state as we continue to blaze the way on marijuana legalization.