Denver's Social Consumption Committee Debates the Effects of Colorado's Pot-Clubs Bill

Social-consumption committee members discuss the nuances of I-300.
Kate McKee Simmons
Social-consumption committee members discuss the nuances of I-300.
Much of Denver's fourth Social Consumption Advisory Committee meeting on March 11 was spent discussing the proposal to allow marijuana clubs, which is currently before the Colorado Legislature.

SB 17-184, the Private Marijuana Clubs Open and Public Use bill, passed a Senate committee last week in a bipartisan five-to-two vote and is on its way to the Senate floor. Denver's advisory committee, which was set up after the passage of  I-300, wants to ensure that as the city implements the voter-approved social consumption initiative, it does not interfere with the language in the state's bill.

Emmett Reistroffer, one of the authors and lead proponents of I-300, said the language in SB 17-184 is not any more restrictive than the language in I-300, except when it comes to visibility.  That led to a discussion of whether the "open and public" language of SB 184 would interfere with the committee's previous determination that venues could allow consumption on rooftops and behind enclosed fences. "I think the intent of 300 will be affected, but we can't help that if state law passes. If our city leaders want to go with state law, then that's the direction we're going to go," Reistroffer told his fellow committee members.

I-300 requires a visibility barrier at street level but allows open consumption on places such as rooftop patios that are out of view. If SB 184 passes and is signed by the governor, a visibility barrier might be required around every consumption area, including rooftop venues.

Reistroffer said he thinks the state bill will pass, so he wants the committee to be prepared to amend areas of I-300 that are in conflict with SB 184's requirements. "Maybe we need to go a step further and say, 'No visibility at all,'" he told the group. "I think it's kind of ironic I'm the one bringing it up. I think I'm stabbing myself in the foot — I'm the liberal one here trying to create consumption areas, but truthfully I want this to work and I do think 184 will pass, so I want us to get prepared to address that, because maybe we need to just go a step further and say no visibility at all."

SB 184 states that "open and public consumption of marijuana...and any consumption of marijuana that endangers others is prohibited."

Rachel O'Bryan, who ran the campaign against I-300, said it's important for the committee to discuss whether Denver's initiative is bound by the expanded definition of "open and public" in SB 184. She also wondered whether the language means "open and public" as it applies to one entity, or if it indicates open use and public use as two separate restrictions.

"That's what 'and' usually means — you have to satisfy both," responded Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Marley Bordovsky, who's representing the Denver City Attorney's Office, said the language in the state's bill could be clearer. "It's not well-drafted," she said. "It could be interpreted to mean that a local jurisdiction can create exceptions to open and public consumption."

Reistroffer suggested that the committee invite representatives from the Colorado Municipal League, the primary sponsor of SB 184, to the next meeting in order to clear up any language questions and to help the committee ensure that any implementation of I-300 will not conflict with the new state law, should SB 184 pass. "It would be nice to hear from them directly," he said.

Before getting into SB 184, the committee meeting began with talk about intoxication, an issue briefly discussed and subsequently tabled at the first committee meeting in January. What happens if someone leaves a consumption venue and causes an accident? Is the venue liable? Committee members now considered whether businesses should be required to have additional insurance.

Dan Landes, owner of City, O' City and the committee's business representative, reiterated a point made at previous meetings: This is not an issue the committee needs to worry about, because any responsible business owners would talk with their insurance companies about the additional liability risk; otherwise, insurance companies would likely require the venues to update their policies to account for marijuana consumption on the premises.

O'Bryan disagreed, saying that the committee should require additional insurance of businesses allowing social consumption, or at least ensure during the application process that each business has discussed liability with their insurance providers.

Kobi Waldfogel, the events representative on the committee, asked a practical question that will be answered at a later date: Does the business owner hold the permit for consumption, or are the permits linked to a specific location?

Ashley Kilroy, director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, said that for now the committee should focus on regulations for location permits and revisit the event-permit discussion. And as for those location permits, committee members discussed how to verify identification and whether identification must be given each time someone enters a venue.

Maureen McNamara, CEO of Cannabis Trainers, pointed out that under current law, every marijuana business must ID everyone upon entry.  O'Bryan agreed, saying that everyone should be carded every time.

But Landes noted that bartenders or bar owners have regular customers and often don't ID their regulars every time; requiring marijuana businesses to do that would be redundant.

After a break, Bordovsky and Kristi Kelly joked that venues should have a secret handshake for patrons  — and even did a demonstration with a fist bump and a high-five.

The identification issue was not resolved at this meeting, and is likely to be revisited at a later date.

The next social-consumption committee meeting will be at 9 a.m. Friday, March 24,at the Webb Municipal Office Building, Room 4.G.2.