How soon till launch?

Many ques­tions re­main on Ini­tia­tive 300 and what the pro­gram will look like.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Jon Mur­ray

For Mutiny In­for­ma­tion Cafe on Den­ver’s South Broad­way strip, the city’s re­cently passed so­cial mar­i­juana use voter ini­tia­tive could al­low for once-a-month Satur­day night gath­er­ings that mix va­p­ing, ed­i­bles and danc­ing.

Other busi­nesses are con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties opened up by the suc­cess­ful bal­lot mea­sure, rang­ing from one-off events to al­low­ing pot con­sump­tion ar­eas on-site daily. The owner of a yoga and spin­ning stu­dio on East Col­fax is mulling the idea of oc­ca­sional spe­cial events that might cou­ple mar­i­juana with med­i­ta­tion or Thai mas­sage.

But be­fore The Rhythm Revo­lu­tion’s Jas­mine An­der­son de­cides whether to even seek a new mar­i­juana con­sump­tion per­mit, she — like oth­ers whose in­ter­est is piqued — wants to see more de­tails about how it will work.

That is the big­gest ques­tion sur­round­ing Ini­tia­tive 300, which 53.6 per­cent of Den­ver vot­ers ap­proved Nov. 8. The city’s Depart­ment of Ex­cise and Li­censes has only be­gun sort­ing through a mul­ti­tude of is­sues — from le­gal to reg­u­la­tory to prag­matic — that will de­ter­mine what the first-of-its-kind mar­i­juana so­cial use per­mit pro­gram looks like.

“I think it’s pretty in­no­va­tive,” Univer­sity of Den­ver law pro­fes­sor Sam Kamin said about Ini­tia­tive 300. To him, that fits in with other ways Den­ver and the state have plowed new ground na­tion­ally. “Colorado has in­no­vated in this area since the be­gin­ning, be­cause we were the first that took both med­i­cal and recre­ational li­cens­ing se­ri­ously.”

The city plans to make per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions avail­able by Jan. 20. That would meet a Jan. 21 dead­line re­quired by the ini­tia­tive, or 60 days af­ter the elec­tion’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

But the city faces no other firm dead­lines. So it re­mains up in the air how soon a busi­ness might open the city’s first con­sump­tion area or host the first open-to-the-pub­lic event to make use of a new per­mit.

Li­cens­ing spokesman Dan Row­land said Fri­day that a “flex­i­ble” city time­line called for fi­nal­iz­ing the rules and reg­u­la­tions and be­gin­ning to ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions in sum­mer 2017.

The voter-forced change was sold by its back­ers as a way to pro­vide places to use mar­i­juana for tourists and some res­i­dents who can’t smoke or vape at home, as well as peo­ple who want to do it so­cially.

In pass­ing Ini­tia­tive 300, vot­ers ap­proved a new city or­di­nance that cre­ates a four-

year pi­lot pro­gram. Busi­nesses of most stripes could seek per­mits — last­ing up to a year — for bringy­our-own-mar­i­juana “con­sump­tion ar­eas,” in­door or out­door, that are 21 and older. (Smok­ing wouldn’t be al­lowed in­side.)

But the catch is that ap­pli­cants first must ob­tain back­ing from a lo­cal civic group, which could in­clude a city-regis­tered neigh­bor­hood or­ga­ni­za­tion or a busi­ness im­prove­ment dis­trict.

Those groups can set op­er­at­ing con­di­tions in ex­change for their sup­port.

Al­ready, state rules bar mar­i­juana busi­nesses from al­low­ing con­sump­tion on site. And on Nov. 18, state li­cens­ing of­fi­cials fur­ther nar­rowed the scope of el­i­gi­ble busi­nesses by an­nounc­ing a new rule that pro­hibits vir­tu­ally all liquor li­censees, in­clud­ing all bars and some restau­rants, from al­low­ing pot use on their premises.

Mutiny’s Jim Nor­ris said he and co-owner Matt Me­gyesi have de­cided to go for a per­mit for their com­bi­na­tion book store and cafe.

“We’re think­ing about do­ing it once a month, maybe an art gallery kind of thing,” he said, per­haps in­cor­po­rat­ing a dance party. “It would prob­a­bly be on a Satur­day night,” adapt­ing the in­vi­ta­tion-only “Atomic Doo­bie Satur­day Night” events he has hosted in the past.

An­der­son is less cer­tain how she might use a per­mit, but she has thought about ways mar­i­juana could deepen med­i­ta­tion or mas- sages in spe­cial events, per­haps hosted off-site.

Sen­si­tive to pub­lic stig­mas sur­round­ing mar­i­juana, she said The Rhythm Revo­lu­tion wouldn’t seek a per­mit to al­low cannabis use dur­ing reg­u­lar yoga or spin­ning classes be­cause “our busi­ness model never in­cluded that. … At the core of it all, we’re al­ways go­ing to be about the mu­sic.”

Im­ple­men­ta­tion steps

At 3 p.m. Mon­day, city li­cens­ing of­fi­cials and city at­tor­neys will brief City Coun­cil mem­bers about the progress they have made on fig­ur­ing out Ini­tia­tive 300’s im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Row­land said the city likely would form an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee dur­ing win­ter that draws to­gether Ini­tia­tive 300’s back­ers and its op­po­nents, com­mu­nity mem­bers and busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives to help shape the per­mit pro­gram and reg­u­la­tions. That mir­rors the city’s ap­proach in pre­vi­ous ef­forts to reg­u­late le­gal mar­i­juana.

A spring pub­lic hear­ing on pro­posed reg­u­la­tions also is likely.

“This is the time for Den­ver res­i­dents to get to know their neigh­bor­hood or­ga­ni­za­tion and their coun­cil rep,” said Rachel O’Bryan, who man­aged the anti-Ini­tia­tive 300 group Pro­tect Den­ver’s At­mos­phere. “Be­cause you are re­ly­ing on them to put an aw­ful lot of safety mea­sures in place through that let­ter of ap­proval (for per­mits) and the con­di­tions at­tached. It’s enor­mous, the power.”

Ini­tia­tive 300’s lead backer, Den­ver mar­i­juana con­sul­tant Kay­van Kha­lat­bari, an­tic­i­pates a slow roll­out in­volv­ing ex­per­i­men­ta­tion by busi­nesses that lead the charge.

For good rea­son: No Amer­i­can city has done this be­fore.

Am­s­ter­dam long has had its cof­fee shops, where cus­tomers are free to light a joint. But the pre­ferred mode of so­cial use in a hand­ful of Colorado cities and towns, in­clud­ing Ned­er­land and En­gle­wood, has been pri­vate clubs, though not al­ways with­out strife.

Other states that were among the first to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton and Alaska, have made it ex­plic­itly il­le­gal to op­er­ate a club or use so­cial mar­i­juana in such pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble places. But California, where vot­ers just le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana last month, will al­low some lee­way for on-site con­sump­tion, at least at li­censed mar­i­juana busi­nesses, if lo­cal gov­ern­ments de­cide to au­tho­rize it.

In Den­ver, of­fi­cials are con­sid­er­ing many ques­tions about Ini­tia­tive 300, in­clud­ing:

• Should the li­cens­ing depart­ment set more spe­cific rules than those in Ini­tia­tive 300? It al­ready says con­sump­tion ar­eas can’t be within 1,000 feet of schools, and those out­doors can’t be vis­i­ble from pub­lic rights of way and places where chil­dren con­gre­gate.

• Should the city spell out stan­dards for the mea­sure’s re­quire­ment that ap­pli­cants train em­ploy­ees to iden­tify and re­spond to over-in­tox­i­cated cus­tomers? • How will en­force­ment work? • And legally, does the city need to set fur­ther re­stric­tions on con­sump­tion ar­eas to avoid any con­flict with state law?

While Colorado’s Amend­ment 64, which vot­ers passed in 2012 to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, does not ex­plic­itly bar pub­lic use, the state crim­i­nal code still says mar­i­juana can’t be used “openly and pub­licly.” The state leg­is­la­ture still has not de­fined what that means, how­ever.

City of­fi­cials are well aware that as they work on lo­cal reg­u­la­tions, the Gen­eral Assem­bly will re­con­vene for its 2017 ses­sion in Jan­uary, giv­ing law­mak­ers a chance to place new con­straints on Den­ver.

Mayor Michael Han­cock has said lit­tle about what he thinks about the ini­tia­tive, in­clud­ing whether he voted for it. His of­fice said he was not avail­able Fri­day to an­swer that ques­tion.

But his ad­min­is­tra­tion says it takes vot­ers’ direc­tion se­ri­ously.

“A ma­jor­ity of vot­ers in Den­ver be­lieve there should be a place for peo­ple to con­sume mar­i­juana so­cially,” may­oral spokes­woman Jenna Espinoza wrote in an email. “As we as­sess how we can im­ple­ment this law now, our over­all goals with im­ple­men­ta­tion of Ini­tia­tive 300 are the same as with pre­vi­ous mea­sures like Amend­ment 64: en­act this new law re­spon­si­bly and thought­fully; en­sure the health, safety and well­be­ing of our city; and meet the needs of res­i­dents, busi­nesses, neigh­bor­hoods and vis­i­tors.”

Op­ti­mistic sup­port­ers

Kha­lat­bari and at­tor­ney Chris­tian Seder­berg, another sup­porter, view the mea­sure as fully al­lowed un­der state law, though city at­tor­neys have voiced con­cerns.

“What we’re propos­ing is even more dis­creet and set back (from pub­lic view) than al­co­hol, which is also some­thing that’s sup­posed to not be used in pub­lic,” Kha­lat­bari said.

The back­ers say they are op­ti­mistic that Den­ver city of­fi­cials will make a good-faith ef­fort.

“I also think the vot­ers made a very clear state­ment,” Seder­berg said. “We’re go­ing to be true to our word that we’re go­ing to work hard to make sure this thing works.”

They still are con­sid­er­ing a chal­lenge early next year of the new Colorado Liquor En­force­ment Di­vi­sion rule that will keep bars from par­tic­i­pat­ing, Kha­lat­bari said.

Op­po­nents of Ini­tia­tive 300 also are ea­ger to add their voices to the city’s re­view.

O’Bryan, who man­aged the op­po­si­tion group, said city of­fi­cials should wade be­yond le­gal is­sues into li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance re­quire­ments and health con­cerns. Those in­clude proper ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems and pro­tect­ing em­ploy­ees who don’t want ex­po­sure to po­ten­tially chem­i­cal-con­tain­ing va­pors emit­ted by va­p­ing de­vices, she said.

City Coun­cil mem­bers plan to keep tabs on the roll­out. Rules for voter ini­tia­tives al­low the coun­cil to tweak any pro­vi­sion af­ter six months, though that re­quires a pub­lic hear­ing and a two-thirds ma­jor­ity vote.

“I have a lot of con­cerns about it,” said Coun­cil­woman Ken­dra Black, who chairs a mar­i­juana spe­cial is­sue com­mit­tee. “I do think we need to have some so­lu­tions around so­cial con­sump­tion. I don’t know if this was the right way to do it … but it’s a prob­lem that needed a so­lu­tion, and this is an im­por­tant first step.”

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