While limited recreational marijuana sales are legal in Colorado, smoking in public is not -- an untenable situation according to cannabis advocates such as NORML's Allen St. Pierre. The result has been an enormous increase in public-consumption citations, which have reportedly risen in Denver by an astonishing 471 percent from 2013 to this year.
The challenge of figuring out where people can legally smoke marijuana has pitted weed fanciers against law enforcers and local officials for well over a year. Note the controversy over what was initially deemed a "sniff test" that could have led to a ban against Denver residents consuming pot on their own front porches or punishment for anyone whose neighbors could smell smoke through their open windows.
Denver City Council opted against that proposal last December. But Denver mayor Michael Hancock and other officials continue to oppose the creation of marijuana social clubs like Maryjane's, which was shut down following a raid in June.
This situation seems ridiculous to NORML's St. Pierre. "I don't think the model of people buying cannabis but only being able to use it in a totally private space is sustainable," he told us earlier this year. "We envision having the kind of place where people can use cannabis in a recreational setting that looks very similar to what we use for alcohol -- where there's implied consent, so that if you go into one of these establishments, you know what you're getting into."
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St. Pierre feels that what he refers to as "the Amsterdam model" has "a lot of attraction to a consumer -- particularly someone like me, who's a tourist in Denver. After I've purchased legal cannabis, I can't legally use it in my hotel room, I can't use it walking down the road, I can't use it in an automobile. So where can I use it? This is a totally dysfunctional system, and even though some people think establishing places where people can consume encourages more use, I don't think it does. It just says adults want to use cannabis legally in a social, quasi-public setting."
Against this backdrop comes a report from Colorado Public Radio. According to figures obtained by CPR, Denver police officers wrote 668 tickets for public marijuana consumption during the first three-quarters of this year, as compared to 117 for a similar period in 2013 -- a jump of 471 percent.
Here's a CPR graphic breaking down the arrests by quarter. As you can see, this past spring, which included 4/20, saw the largest number of citations: 330.
Marijuana advocate and attorney Rob Corry, who was arrested for smoking pot at Coors Field in 2013, feels the numbers present a strong argument for the cannabis-club concept. "Denver is going to continue to see public consumption of it, that will be inevitable, until Denver allows people a place to consume it," he told CPR.
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A DPD spokesperson told Colorado Public Radio officers are simply trying to follow the law and protect the public. But our William Breathes, writing about the situation on our Toke of the Town blog, sees another possible interpretation.
"Cops say they've seen a huge increase, though it could also be that they've been directed to write more tickets for consumption in a town that had plenty of public consumption before public sales," Breathes maintains. "It could also be that without the ability to write minor possession charges, police are looking for other ways to intimidate cannabis users."
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.