Social Pot Use Initiative Backers Will Get It on Ballot If Deal Isn't Reached Soon

Last year, a coalition of Denver officials, business representatives and cannabis advocates agreed to work together to create a workable policy that would create a legal way for adults to consume marijuana in a public place in the Mile High City.

But more than four months have passed since the effort was announced — and Mason Tvert, the driving force behind a ballot initiative on the subject, makes it clear that the clock is ticking — and if too much more time passes without results, he's ready to bring the idea to voters.

"Officials at all levels need to make more progress on this," he says.

As we've noted, locals and tourists alike have been complaining for years about Denver marijuana laws that make consumption of marijuana in a public place illegal. And attempts to get around the prohibitions by way of pot clubs have been blocked. Last 4/20 weekend, for instance, the Denver Police department raided two marijuana clubs.

Hence the introduction last June of the Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative, which Tvert, who combined forces with fellow Amendment 64 proponent Brian Vicente to push the proposal, described at the time as "a narrow exemption to Denver's current ban for social marijuana consumption by adults. It simply gives private businesses the ability to allow adult marijuana consumption in areas that are only accessible to people 21 and older, as long as it's not viewable to the public. It would require signage in that area, for example."

Here's the initiative's ballot language:
Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure permitting the consumption of marijuana by individuals twenty-one years of age or older at certain premises that are not private residential property, provided that individuals under the age of twenty-one are prohibited from entering any space where the consumption of marijuana is allowed, the owner, operator, or individual in control of the premises has authorized the consumption of marijuana, and the individual consuming marijuana neither smokes marijuana indoors in violation of Colorado's Clean Indoor Air Act nor consumes marijuana in a location where the consumption is visible from a nearby public place; permitting the operation of business and commerce involving the consumption of marijuana; permitting the Denver City Council to adopt ordinances that regulate signage, marketing, and advertising for any business that permits the consumption of marijuana; permitting the Denver City Council to regulate the hours of operation and create distance restrictions for any business that permits the consumption of marijuana that does not also hold a license to sell alcohol for onsite consumption; declaring it unlawful to permit marijuana consumption at a premises that is not private residential property unless certain conditions are met; immunizing businesses and property owners from certain licensing sanctions and public nuisance enforcement actions related to the consumption of marijuana, provided the consumption is in accordance with applicable ordinances; and clarifying that owners and residents of adjacent properties may bring private nuisance actions against any business that permits marijuana consumption and that the City of Denver may enforce air quality standards against these businesses?
By August, Tvert and company had collected double the number of signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot, and most observers believed it would win easy approval.

But then, at an early September press conference, Tvert announced that the initiative would be withdrawn after "city and business leaders agreed to work with initiative backers to develop a social cannabis consumption law that reflects the interests and concerns of all stakeholders," according to a news release.

Specifically cited were Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez, Executive Director of Marijuana Policy Ashley Kilroy, plus reps from the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association/Metro Denver Lodging Association and the Colorado Restaurant Association, whose joint statement read:
"We appreciate the willingness of the proponents of the Limited Social Cannabis Use initiative to withdraw their measure so we have the opportunity to work collaboratively on this matter. Our respective industries are committed to working with the proponents and the city to find a solution that reflects the interests and concerns of all stakeholders. We look forward to future conversations.”

Since then, however, there's been radio silence about the issue, although Tvert says, "It's something that's still being looked at in Denver — and also at the state level."

Indeed, Colorado representative Jonathan Singer recently announced his intention to propose legislation during the just-launched 2016 session at the Colorado Capitol that would establish statewide rules for pot clubs.

Under them, people who agreed to pay a monthly membership fee could legally consume cannabis in a social setting.

Some communities in Colorado already allow such clubs, but there's little uniformity from place to place — and Singer would like to change that.

He's also talked about a bill that would allow marijuana use at dispensaries and retail shops, as long as the areas where consumption took place would have to comply with the Clean Indoor Air Act — meaning that attendees would almost certainly be limited to vaping or eating edibles.

Of course, there's no guarantee that either of these bills will pass, and even if they do, Tvert believes that "this still needs to be addressed locally, since some of the legislation is likely to leave things to localities. So our conversations are continuing with Denver city officials, and we hope to reach a consensus about a path forward in the coming months.

"But," he continues, "we're keeping the option for an initiative open should it be needed."

Thus far, Tvert hasn't set a date by which he'll launch the initiative process if the negotiations fail to bear fruit. However, "we're very familiar with the initiative process and the time it takes to utilize it, if necessary."

If last year is any indication, that would mean the proposal would have to be introduced by June — and Tvert feels that its odds of success would be even better in 2016 than 2015.

"We think that voters agree adults should be able to use marijuana socially with other adults in designated establishments," he stresses. "And during a presidential election, when voter turnout is particularly strong, we believe we would see even more support than we would in other years."

No need for city officials and business leaders to read between those lines.

Look below to see the complete text of the Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative circa 2015.

Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative: Full Text

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts