Social Consumption Group Debates Alcohol, Smoking Indoors and Locations

The Social Consumption Advisory Committee met for the last time on April 6.
The Social Consumption Advisory Committee met for the last time on April 6. Kate McKee Simmons
It was evident at the final meeting of the Denver Social Consumption Advisory Committee on April 6 that even though the twenty committee members agree on many points and have made great progress, there are a few areas where they still disagree — and the areas where they disagree are major issues that have yet to be resolved.

Going through the draft regulations, committee members realized that they're split on the most basic issues, like whether to allow smoking indoors or outdoors.

Once this division became evident, Denver City Council rep Kendra Black chuckled and asked, "If we aren't going to let people smoke indoors and also not allow smoking outdoors, then what have we been doing?"

Emmett Reistroffer, one of the authors of Initiative 300, said that it's unreasonable for venues to only allow vaping indoors, as most marijuana users prefer to actually smoke the flower.

"The more we say 'no smoking indoors,' the more that the smoking will happen on patios outdoors. I know you see the benefit of that.... But I'm thinking of the thousands of people who use marijuana in Denver. Most want to smoke it; they don't want to vape it," Reistroffer explained. "We've got to realize there are adverse consequences. If you drive out any smoking possibilities indoors, it's going to happen outdoors, then, and that's where I would argue you have to think about how that secondhand smoke will affect neighbors and people on the sidewalk. If it's indoors, you can ventilate it and control it and limit the exposure to people who are consenting."

Rachel O'Bryan, who ran the campaign against I-300, replied that to allow smoking indoors follows the private-club model and will just cause more harm to those inside. "There's a ventilation association that says you cannot clean indoor air of pot or marijuana or cannabis residue," she said.

During the comment section of the meeting, a homeowner brought up another aspect of the issue: While it's one thing if your neighbors smoke outside every once in a while, to have a venue that allows it consistently will affect the neighbors.

Committee members agreed to disagree on indoor smoking.

Polyconsumption was the other main issue that divided the committee. Many members said they do not approve allowing dual consumption: smoking marijuana while drinking alcohol. But others pointed out that Denver voters approved Initiative 300 knowing that its passage would likely make dual consumption legal. And one commenter accused the committee of having "bastardized" the intent of the initiative.

Reistroffer repeated a concern he's brought up every time the topic has been addressed, that part of the intent of I-300 was to eliminate some of the harm associated with dual consumption. "We're trying to find a solution to deal with something that's already happening," he said. "If we just say no, people will still dual-consume. If there is a concern about dual consumption, why is the community not going and asking the city and the state to shut down every concert venue in Denver? Because it's happening right now on almost a daily basis. We want to provide a solution so we can contain the harm."

Several other members responded to Reistroffer's comments by saying the organizations they represent cannot condone dual consumption. "We currently are under the marijuana microscope in this country, and we need to do this right the first time," said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML.

The other outstanding issue concerned whether the location restrictions are too restrictive.

Black asked if the committee could see a map indicating how much room is left once all the location restrictions are in effect. She said she's worried that the requirements are too restrictive and will push social consumption out to areas that are already littered with crime and drug use.

Other members proposed minor changes in the regulations the committee has proposed. O'Bryan said the rules needed clarification. As it stands, they stipulate that each person can carry no more than an ounce; she hopes the rules could specify that is one ounce of flower, not concentrates. Reistroffer requested that the term "dabbing" be removed, mostly as a factual inaccuracy: Indoor venues will not be allowed to have butane torches, but other types of dabbing will be accepted.

The regulations proposed by the committee now move to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. Later this month (the tentative date is April 25), the city will publish a draft of the proposal and schedule a public hearing for late May. The city will start accepting applications from businesses and individuals seeking social-consumption permits this summer.
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.