Marijuana: Could city council ban smoking near schools even on private property?

In addition to voting on a proposed plastic bag-fee bill at a meeting tonight, members of Denver City Council will also take on an amendment that would allow people to smoke marijuana on their front porches, thereby formalizing an unlikely reversal of a rule that would have banned it. One key councilwoman doesn't expect another flip-flop this evening, but she points to other new proposals on the agenda, including one that could make smoking near schools illegal even on private property. And that's not all.

As we noted in a November 25 interview with Amendment 64 proponent Mason Tvert, who scheduled a press conference from the balcony of his apartment to dramatize the subject, the amendment was initially characterized by critics as a sniff test, since it criminalized indoor pot smoking if the aroma could be detected by anyone outside the residence where it was taking place.

Complaints about this notion from figures such as council member Susan Shepherd led to some tweaking of the ordinance. However, a subsequent draft still stated that "it shall be unlawful for any person to openly and publicly display or consume one (1) ounce or less of marijuana" in "common areas of public and private buildings or facilities," including private homes -- and it passed 7-5 on first reading, with the subsequent second reading regarded as a rubber stamp.

But no: Shepherd didn't stop fighting, and in the end, Councilman Albus Brooks changed his position on the front-porch prohibition, leading to its defeat by a 7-6 margin. The amendment allowing such consumption will be accepted if it wins a final vote tonight.

Shepherd acknowledges that the last-minute defeat of a previously approved amendment "is definitely unusual -- but the issue we're tackling is so huge and has so many aspects to it. I think everyone really does want to try as hard as possible to allow private consumption, but there are a lot of differences on the council about how to best protect children from exposure to the drug. And we're really doing this for the first time in the world, other than in Amsterdam, so it's not something you can do easily or lightly."

In the end, one of the major factors that swayed Councilman Brooks, Shepherd believes, was the prospect of straining police resources when it came to enforcing the front-porch ban. "He said quite clearly that many of his community leaders sat him down over the Thanksgiving holiday and said, 'This isn't a good solution,'" Shepherd allows. "And he talked about 'over-policing' -- people calling and tattling on other people, and that being used to intimidate or harass other people. That police could end up profiling them, basically."

In light of such concerns, Shepherd says, "I don't think the amendment is going to be reversed tonight." But she points out that Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, a primary proponent of the plastic-bag fee that's also on the agenda, "is attempting to set a special exemption similar to what we just overturned. It would limit consumption within a thousand feet from schools, including on private property."

Continue for more of our interview with Councilwoman Susan Shepherd about new marijuana proposals that are likely on the way. Questions about the specifics of the proposal remain. For instance, Shepherd is hoping to find out before tonight's meeting if the thousand feet restriction would be linear or measured in a radius from schools. But in any event, the rule could apparently make it illegal for a person to smoke on his porch if his home is 999 feet from a school, but legal for someone 1,001 feet away.

Shepherd's concern? "That could be interpreted as being discriminatory depending on where the property line is." She adds that "we've been talking, over and over again, about trying to make these rules as simple as possible, so one can purchase retail marijuana starting on January 1 and understand the rules -- know that they're predictable. We don't want citizens to have to be scratching their heads trying to figure out if they're in compliance with something that's already been voted as legal."

Also coming tonight from Ortega, Shepherd says, is the introduction of a measure that "would specifically prohibit the display, transfer and sale of marijuana on public property within a thousand feet of a school. And I don't know why that's needed, because I think the legislature has already passed that."

Could more marijuana-related proposals along the lines of the front-porch ban be brought before the council in the near-future? Shepherd thinks so.

"I know there are still people on the council upset about smell issues, particularly from grow operations," she points out. "I wouldn't be surprised to see that come back in some sort of potential ordinance." Likewise, she believes "the whole private club issue" may return before long. In her view, "there's going to be a conflict with people who wish to consume but don't have a private space to do it -- like tourists. We know that people are going to come here from other states to consume, and where they're going to consume legally is a big question."

One that will be even more relevant after January 1.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana front-porch smoking allowed under surprising Denver City Council amendment."

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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