Pot plan reach­ing mid­dle ground

Both sides ham­mer out de­tails over Ini­tia­tive 300.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jon Mur­ray

Den­ver’s plan to al­low peo­ple to use mar­i­juana at some busi­nesses drew a step closer to re­al­ity Fri­day, when the city’s top li­cens­ing of­fi­cial un­veiled fi­nal rules for the pi­lot pro­gram that is set to launch in com­ing months.

Big ques­tions re­main: Will the newly adopted reg­u­la­tions for the first-in-the-na­tion “so­cial use” pro­gram pro­vide mea­sured pro­tec­tion for pa­trons and neigh­bors of busi­nesses that take part, as city of­fi­cials say? Or are the rules for con­sump­tion ar­eas so re­stric­tive that few busi­nesses and event or­ga­niz­ers will want to bother?

The ex­u­ber­ance that greeted the Nov. 8 pas­sage of Ini­tia­tive 300 — in which 54 per­cent of city vot­ers di­rected of­fi­cials to cre­ate a four-year pi­lot of the so­cial mar­i­juana con­sump­tion pro­gram — is now tem­pered among its chief sup­port­ers. Their protest of sev­eral draft rules, re­leased May 11, re­sulted in only a cou­ple changes by city of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the nix­ing of a pro­posed re­quire­ment that pa­trons sign waivers upon en­try to a busi­ness’ con­sump­tion area.

“I still have ques­tions that I need an­swered. We still have con­cerns about many of the rules,” said I-300 cam­paign leader Em­mett Reistrof­fer, from Den­ver Re­lief Con­sult­ing. “How­ever, I rec­og­nize some im­prove­ments and I’m hope­ful that there still are op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses and non­prof­its to al­low cannabis con­sump­tion.”

The city will be­gin ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions by the end of Au­gust to per­mit so­cial consump-

tion ar­eas on an an­nual ba­sis or for events.

As re­quired by the bal­lot mea­sure, ap­pli­cants must ob­tain back­ing from a regis­tered neigh­bor­hood or­ga­ni­za­tion, a busi­ness im­prove­ment dis­trict’s board or other area group. That gives those groups the power to set op­er­at­ing con­di­tions for the set-off, 21-and-older ar­eas in­doors or out­doors where cus­tomers could con­sume their own cannabis; in­door ar­eas would have to fol­low the state’s smok­ing ban.

In­ter­ested busi­nesses so far have in­cluded yoga stu­dios, cof­fee shops with back-door pa­tios, and bars or restau­rants — though liquor-li­cense hold­ers must be will­ing to meet strict al­co­hol ex­clu­sion rules for reg­u­lar or one-off events, be­cause state liquor-li­cens­ing rules bar the mix­ture of al­co­hol and mar­i­juana.

Busi­nesses that grow or sell mar­i­juana in Den­ver won’t be el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for con­sump­tion area per­mits. Fees for suc­cess­ful per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions will to­tal $2,000.

Of­fi­cials say they need to up­date li­cens­ing sys­tems to process the ap­pli­ca­tions, so that likely will push back the ac­cep­tance of re­quests from an orig­i­nal late July tar­get. Reistrof­fer called that de­lay a big dis­ap­point­ment be­cause back­ers were hop­ing for sum­mer events to be among the first to take ad­van­tage of the pro­gram.

“We have had a very ag­gres­sive time­line, and we’re right on time” in fi­nal­iz­ing the rules, said Ash­ley Kil­roy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Depart­ment of Ex­cise and Li­censes, adding: “Build­ing any struc­ture from the ground up takes time.”

An ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee in­clud­ing both sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of I-300 helped shape the reg­u­la­tions. The com­mit­tee found broad con­sen­sus on some is­sues but dis­agreed on a hand­ful of the most con­tentious.

“We are grate­ful that many of our con­cerns were heard,” Rachel O’Bryan, who man­aged the an­tiIni­tia­tive 300 cam­paign and took part in the com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment. “Th­ese fi­nal rules re­leased by Den­ver Ex­cise & Li­censes fairly balance the de­sires of mar­i­juana con­sumers and po­ten­tial so­cial con­sump­tion per­mit-seek­ers with the needs of all Den­ver cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors alike.”

But she cited wor­ries about the mes­sage that would be sent to chil­dren who saw the con­sump­tion ar­eas in busi­nesses and about pa­trons’ use of ed­i­bles. “Den­ver cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors should be vig­i­lant around the in­creased risks of mar­i­juana-im­paired driv­ing,” O’Bryan said.

Ini­tia­tive 300 pro­vided some re­stric­tions for busi­nesses, and the city’s new reg­u­la­tions flesh those out while adding de­tailed rules, of­ten draw­ing from the city’s prior reg­u­la­tions of the mar­i­juana and liquor in­dus­tries. They fo­cus on op­er­at­ing re­stric­tions and lo­ca­tion re­stric­tions — purely res­i­den­tial zon­ing dis­tricts, pub­lic prop­erty, and prop­er­ties within 1,000 feet of places such as schools and child-care cen­ters are of­flim­its — and pro­vide nu­mer­ous per­mit con­di­tions, in­clud­ing pub­lic hear­ings for busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions.

Kil­roy did bow to the ini­tia­tive back­ers’ con­cerns on some is­sues.

The li­cens­ing depart­ment won’t re­quire pa­trons to sign waivers as they en­ter a con­sump­tion area. In­stead, the busi­nesses must post a vis­i­ble no­tice ad­vis­ing pa­trons they are re­spon­si­ble for their own ac­tions, must con­sume mar­i­juana re­spon­si­bly, should not drive im­paired and can­not share mar­i­juana in ex­change for money.

The other ma­jor change drops a re­quire­ment for a busi­ness to cre­ate and fol­low a ven­ti­la­tion plan if it al­lows the use of va­p­ing de­vices in­doors. Kil­roy said that ul­ti­mately was deemed un­nec­es­sary since city re­quire­ments cur­rently pro­vide ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion and ap­pli­cants al­ready need an odor-con­trol plan.

I-300 sup­port­ers ar­gued the change would cut down on pub­lic pot-smok­ing by pro­vid­ing places to use mar­i­juana for tourists and for some res­i­dents who can’t smoke or vape at home, as well as peo­ple who want to do it so­cially.

Among I-300 back­ers’ most press­ing con­cerns about the new rules, Reistrof­fer said, are prox­im­ity and lo­ca­tion re­stric­tions that might keep too many busi­nesses from ap­ply­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing rules that bar pro­mo­tion by per­mit­ted busi­nesses and a pro­hi­bi­tion of events that al­low mar­i­juana on pub­lic prop­erty.

“The city is largely over­look­ing what’s go­ing on at Red Rocks,” he said, call­ing that a prime op­por­tu­nity for oc­ca­sional events with des­ig­nated mar­i­juana-con­sump­tion ar­eas, since pot use fre­quently oc­curs un­sanc­tioned among con­cert­go­ers. “I think they should work with us to cre­ate des­ig­nated con­sump­tion ar­eas. I think the peo­ple want that and think it makes sense.”

He said the city’s rules could per­suade those in­ter­ested in per­mits to re­vert to host­ing pri­vate, in­vite-only events if that’s eas­ier.

The new rules may not be the fi­nal word. State leg­is­la­tors could tweak laws on the pub­lic con­sump­tion is­sue — a sim­i­lar ef­fort failed in the re­cent ses­sion — and I-300 re­quires the Den­ver City Coun­cil to over­see an eval­u­a­tion of the pro­gram be­fore it ex­pires at the end of 2020.

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