Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Pilot Program Qualifies for Ballot

Kayvan Khalatbari, second from right, and other proponents of the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program at the Denver Elections Division. Additional photos and more below.
Kayvan Khalatbari, second from right, and other proponents of the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program at the Denver Elections Division. Additional photos and more below.
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Update: Only days after the Denver NORML-sponsored Denver Responsible Use Initiative fell short of qualifying for the November ballot, the Denver Elections Division announced that the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program has passed muster.

Denver voters will now have a chance to weigh in about the proposal, which will allow marijuana use in social settings — specifically selected bars and restaurants in the Mile High City, as outlined in our previous coverage below.

Denver Elections announced the news in this tweet:

A Facebook post by Kayvan Khalatbari, the program's most prominent proponent, was just as simple, yet considerably more exuberant. Under the photo shared at the top of this post, Khalatbari wrote, "We're on the ballot, baby! Denver's Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Social Use Campaign making moves, making history."

As we've reported, the measure required 4,726 valid signatures for ballot qualification, and Khalatbari and company submitted more than double that amount: approximately 10,800.

Denver NORML has not yet responded publicly to the pilot program achieving its latest threshold. Previously, the organization questioned the wisdom of allowing cannabis consumption at venues where alcohol is served; its own approach called for cannabis-only settings. But after the Denver Responsible Use Initiative didn't receive the Denver Elections Division's blessing, its author, attorney Judd Golden, noted that "the consistent position of NORML is that any expansion of places for people to legally consume this legal product is a good thing." At the same time, however, he acknowledged "practical and legal issues about how they want to do it. The bar thing has been quite an object of contention."

Here's the language that will appear on the ballot regarding the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program:

Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance that creates a cannabis consumption pilot program where: the City and County of Denver (the “City”) may permit a business or a person with evidence of support of an eligible neighborhood association or business improvement district to allow the consumption of marijuana (“cannabis”) in a designated consumption area; such associations or districts may set forth conditions on the operation of a designated consumption area, including permitting or restricting concurrent uses, consumptions, or services offered, if any; the designated consumption area is limited to those over the age of twenty-one, must comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, may overlap with any other type of business or licensed premise, and cannot be located within 1000 feet of a school; a designated consumption area that is located outside cannot be visible from a public right-of-way or a place where children congregate; the City shall create a task force to study the impacts of cannabis consumption permits on the city; the City may enact additional regulations and ordinances to further regulate designated consumption areas that are not in conflict with this ordinance; and the cannabis consumption pilot program expires on December 31, 2020 or earlier if the City passes comprehensive regulations governing cannabis consumption?

Continue to see our previous reports.

Update, 9:51 a.m. August 12: In July, supporters of the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, which would allow the social use of marijuana at participating businesses in Denver, began collecting signatures to get their proposal on the Denver ballot in November; see our previous coverage below.

The results of these efforts, which spanned a period of less than a month, will be touted at a press conference this morning.

According to the campaign, more than 10,800 signatures will be submitted to the Denver Elections Division — more than double the 4,726 required to qualify for the ballot.

Kayvan Khalatbari, the measure's main proponent, says in a statement, "We have seen an overwhelming show of support for this initiative among Denver residents."

The Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program isn't the only social-use measure vying for a ballot spot.

Kayvan Khalatbari.
Kayvan Khalatbari.
Photo by Anthony Camera

The Denver Responsible Use Initiative, sponsored by Denver NORML, also addresses this issue, albeit in different ways. The initiative is focused on marijuana clubs, while the pilot program would allow cannabis use in so-called "traditional social environments," including restaurants and bars where alcohol is served.

Here's how the campaign summarizes how the program would work:


• A business or individual would apply for a permit to allow cannabis consumption in a designated area on their property, which would be limited to adults 21 and older and subject to regulations enforced by the Department of Excise and Licenses and law enforcement, fire, and health officials.

• These spaces must comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act and prevent exposure to secondhand smoke; cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school; and cannot be visible from a public right-of-way or anywhere children congregate.

• Consumption area staff must complete training; refrain from consuming any intoxicants in the workplace; strictly observe safety and security measures; and follow protocols for preventing public intoxication, problematic behavior, and underage use, similar to establishments that allow alcohol consumption.

• The City Council will create a task force to study and report on the impact of the ordinance, and the ordinance will expire on December 31, 2020 if the city has not approved comprehensive cannabis consumption regulations prior to that date.

More than thirty local businesses are said to have signed on to the program.

The press conference is expected to get under way at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the Denver Elections Division, 200 West 14th Avenue, immediately after delivering the signatures; the division will have 25 days to confirm that at least 4,726 signatures are valid. Continue for our previous coverage.

Jordan Dietrich and Emmett Reistroffer show off petitions for what's been dubbed the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program. Additional photos and more below.
Jordan Dietrich and Emmett Reistroffer show off petitions for what's been dubbed the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program. Additional photos and more below.
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Original post, 7:35 a.m. July 25: Editor's note: Two social-cannabis-use measures are currently collecting signatures in an attempt to earn a place on the Denver ballot this November: the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program and the Denver Responsible Use Initiative, sponsored by Denver NORML. We'll be profiling both proposals. First up: the pilot program.

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The Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program is a new proposal intended to create legal places for people to gather and consume cannabis. But it's definitely got a history.

In June 2015, Mason Tvert and Brian Vicente, the two main proponents of Amendment 64, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, announced the birth of the Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative. After collecting twice the number of signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot, Tvert and company withdrew it in order to work with Denver officials, business persons and cannabis advocates to assemble a policy amenable to all. But when a new policy didn't emerge — and after Denver NORML announced its own proposal, the Denver Responsible Use Initiative — the idea for the pilot program emerged.

This time around, Tvert is taking a back-seat role to Denver Relief Consulting's Kayvan Khalatbari, who's working closely with colleague Emmett Reistroffer to get the pilot program off the ground — and Khalatbari puts the best spin on the false start in 2015.

The campaign's logo.
The campaign's logo.

"Last year was kind of a fact-finding mission," he says. "It was really a way to kick off the conversation. And this is a topic that's not going away. It's going to be an issue not just in Colorado, but in other places that have legalized marijuana. So the first initiative was really to push the city and all the stakeholders to start having that dialogue."

Among those stakeholders was Denver NORML, which put the Denver Responsible Use Initiative in motion earlier this year. But Khalatbari and company weren't thrilled with that measure's focus and restrictions. The initiative would legalize private 21+ marijuana social clubs and private 21+ events, thereby allowing marijuana to be lawfully consumed, but it specifically prohibits bars and restaurants from taking part.

"Their initiative keeps cannabis users segregated from mainstream society," Khalatbari argues, "and it's hard for me to see that as a long-term solution. The clubs would address the problem of tourists who come to Denver and don't have anywhere to consume, but this is also a local issue. And I personally don't want to go to a cannabis club and hang out with a bunch of people where you can't do anything else — where there's no food or drink or entertainment."

With that in mind, Khalatbari says he and his team crafted a proposal that would "treat marijuana more like alcohol," in that it would create opportunities for people to use cannabis in restaurants and bars under certain conditions. He notes that because of the Colorado Clean Indoor Act, "combustion can only happen outdoors," and such smoking would be limited to areas where "it can't be seen from the public right of way or from where children congregate. And indoors, business owners who want to participate would be able to do it in ways that won't interfere with people who don't want to be around this."

Kayvan Khalatbari.
Kayvan Khalatbari.

Also important to Khalatbari was getting neighborhoods involved in the process — and to give them a major role in determining how it moves forward. Hence the pilot program, which he says is a way of "putting the training wheels on and taking this for a test drive. It gives participating neighborhood associations a way of saying, 'This didn't work. Next time, let's try this.'"

According to Khalatbari, representatives from the pilot program reached out to Denver NORML to see if there was a way to combine forces, "but they were really stubborn about keeping their initiative the way it was — and that's fine." So members of his group decided to press ahead on their own.

In order to make the ballot, both groups must collect just shy of 5,000 valid signatures by no later than August 15 — and if each of them qualifies, Khalatbari insists, he and the pilot program backers won't engage in negative campaigning in order to undermine Denver NORML. Instead, they'll concentrate on touting the benefits of their approach.

What happens if both pass? "We have clarified this with the city attorney: The one with the most votes will win," Khalatbari says.

A graphic used by the campaign to rally volunteers.
A graphic used by the campaign to rally volunteers.
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