Why Denver NORML Isn't Supporting Social Pot Use Initiative 300

In late August, the Denver Responsible Use Initiative, a proposal intended to create venues for the social consumption of cannabis in the Mile High City, fell short of qualifying for the November ballot. Afterward, attorney Judd Golden of Denver NORML, which backed the measure, told us the organization had not yet decided whether it would support a rival initiative, the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, should its ballot petition pass muster.

Shortly thereafter, the pilot program achieved ballot qualification — and the campaign for what is now known as Initiative 300 is in full swing on the eve of election day. But Denver NORML isn't part of the Yes on 300 campaign's final push.

"We took a neutral position on it," Golden says. "We did not endorse and did not publicly oppose."

However, Golden makes it clear that Denver NORML sees Initiative 300 as far inferior to the Denver Responsible Use Initiative, and he sees a host of potential problems should it pass on Tuesday.

As we've reported, the major differences between the pilot program and the Denver Responsible Use Initiative involved what could be termed "mixed use." The former would allow cannabis consumption at pre-existing bars and restaurants under certain conditions, while the Denver NORML plan presented a framework for legalizing 21+ marijuana clubs or special events.

"After all the interaction we had with neighborhoods and the research and background we did dealing with the city, the strongest feedback we got was in favor of the club model," Golden says. "And it's the one that would serve the most consumers."

He also notes that the Denver Responsible Use Initiative would have allowed for the actual smoking of marijuana, whereas Initiative 300 focuses on vaporizing in order not to violate the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. He considers the vaping mandate to be a major weakness of the measure.

"Since 90 percent or so of people prefer to enjoy marijuana by smoking, the 300 model would not serve a significant enough number of marijuana consumers — people who are now tempted to break the law" by smoking in public, Golden believes. "Our view is that this regulatory approach would, at best, limit the use of marijuana to some non-smoking way of consumption, vaporizing being one option — and that's not how consumers prefer to enjoy marijuana."

As such, Golden continues, "this basically tells a tourist that when they come to town, they can't sit in an indoor space in January and smoke a joint. If they want to consume marijuana, they'll have to spend fifty bucks or more and buy a vaporizing device, which they may have no interest in using, or find a space that, under 300, may have an outdoor area. But in January, that may not be very appealing."

In addition, Golden thinks overlapping neighborhood, business organizations and business-improvement districts that could have a say in the approval or disapproval of applications by restaurants or bars to allow cannabis consumption under 300 could lead to bureaucratic confusion or worse.

"The experience of 200-plus dispensaries in Denver has been largely positive," he argues. "Yet 300 says the neighborhoods can, without any evidence, impose conditions on these businesses out of undifferentiated fear that having people enjoying marijuana in a business is a public-safety issue. We think it goes too far to treat having a place to consume as a potential criminal activity and as a result, you ought to impose all these restrictions. It should be the other way around: People should be able to consume in social settings as long as they don't cause any trouble."

Even with the vote for Initiative 300 looming, Denver NORML is continuing to pursue the marijuana-club model.

"A few weeks ago, several of us from Denver NORML spoke to a city council committee," Golden reveals," and our position is that council has the power to enact a regulatory system that serves more consumers — and whether this passes or not, that need will remain unfulfilled. So we want to actively encourage city council to do that."

Marijuana clubs "are working just fine in other municipalities," Golden says, "and we feel that the club model is the more viable model. NORML is a consumer organization, and we just don't see how 300 is going to serve consumers."

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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