Yesterday, proponents of Initiated Ordinance 300 declared victory for the measure, which will create a pilot program to allow adults to consume cannabis in permitted private establishments such as bars and restaurants.
But Rachel O'Bryan, who served as campaign manager for Protect Denver's Atmosphere, the main organization opposing 300, is much less enthusiastic about the proposal's belated win, which was finally announced a full week after election day. Indeed, she predicts a slew of problems when it comes to implementing the ordinance.
"First and foremost, 300 is about bringing your own marijuana anywhere," O'Bryan says. "But how we're going to train these businesses to understand intoxication when they neither serve the marijuana nor have any control of its potency is beyond me. You've also got the issue of mixing marijuana and alcohol, where impairment can be greater than using either of them alone. And they'll also have to deal with slow-acting edibles, where the effect may not peak for four hours. How do they deal with that? Are we going to have to keep people locked up for four hours before we can assess impairment?"
As we've noted in our previous coverage, 300 must comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Act. As a result, smoking indoors won't be permitted. Rather, consumption in such areas will mainly occur through vaporizing. Smoking will only be allowed in outdoor areas such as patios or on rooftops.
These rules raise "two concerns," O'Bryan allows. "One of them is, when you're outside, how do you vent the air for odor? I don't know how they'll be able to control for that. And indoors, we're only beginning to understand that vapors, while different from smoke, may have health concerns as well. We're learning that vapor settles on surfaces, so you have pollutant issues on surfaces, and we believe there may be other risks involved — which is why the Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution, Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, Denver Public Health and the American Lung Association all opposed the measure." She suggests that employees of participating businesses, in particular, may face unwanted health risks.
Likewise, O'Bryan fears portions of the city that didn't vote in favor of 300 — including many neighborhoods in the southwestern and southeastern quadrants of the metro area, as seen in the Denver Elections graphic below — may find themselves being forced to play host to pot-friendly enterprises.
"If all you need is a business-improvement district to approve this, how many residents in these communities are going to be able to fight it?" she wonders. "They won't even get a letter of notice about it. So how we're going to resolve that issue is going to be really interesting."
The margin of 300's victory was much narrower margin than the one achieved by Amendment 64, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado circa 2012, O'Bryan points out. In addition, she feels that the new measure violates both the spirit and the letter of 64, which "said that consuming openly in public isn't permitted." And while she isn't ready to announce a constitutional challenge ("Those cost money," she acknowledges), she encourages the Denver City Council to put additional protections in place for members of the public who may not want to patronize a business where marijuana will be consumed.
For instance, she says, "I would love to see some kind of signage on the door. With liquor stores or marijuana shops, they have to post a notice on the premises before a permit is granted, and that's not in the ordinance. And I absolutely think customers need to be given a heads-up that this is occurring, even if it's in a closed room that only people 21 and over can access."
When city council members analyze such matters, O'Bryan hopes that opponents are part of the conversation.
"They've always welcomed a broad array of experts to the table when they address these issues," she says, "and I assume that won't change as we go forward."
And forward 300 is going, whether opponents like it or not.