Denver "Restaurant Bill" Makes the Ballot
Amendment 64, passed in 2012, only permits the regulated growing and sales of cannabis products. Whether or not people could smoke (or vape) in public was left to local governments. Denver, like practically every other city in Colorado, opted to keep their public consumption ban. If you're caught blatantly smoking cannabis in public view, you can get ticketed.
Get ticketed enough times, and you could be looking at a brief stint in jail.
Even though marijuana is technically legal in our state, there's still a number of legal infractions surrounding its use. Tourists, by default, can't enjoy the very products they came here to buy. Only by shacking up in someone's private residence or finding a "social use" club (which you'll only find in Colorado Springs) can tourists legally imbibe.
Proponents of these open consumption bans note that it's illegal to drink alcohol in public, too. But that's only sort-of-true. In reality, "public intoxication" is a petty offense, one reserved for people who are brazenly wasted while causing trouble.
Take a stroll down 16th Street Mall and you'll spot a number of diners sipping wine or swilling beer – in public view – on open patios and foyers. This isn't just legal; it's socially acceptable, too.
What the Neighborhood Support Bill Actually Does
This is where it gets fun.
The Neighborhood Supported Social Use Initiative would allow any business that caters to adults 21 and over to allow cannabis on their private property. This means restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and even concerts. However, since most of these places can't allow smoking indoors (because of our state's Clean Air Act), that means smoking would be done from outdoor patios attached to the business. These businesses would need a special license to allow cannabis on their property, but once they get it, it would be treated much like public alcohol consumption.
The other part of Khalatbari's bill is that it gives control of these licenses to local communities. The neighborhood also gets a say, so if the local community doesn't want pot in their bars, they can just say no.
The Other Bill
There's another initiative pushing for the ballot as well. This one was drafted by NORML, a pro-cannabis organization. NORML's bill only permits "social use clubs" and temporary licenses for private events. The clubs aren't allowed to sell food, alcohol, or cannabis. No one can trade or freely transfer cannabis in these clubs, either, and to get in, customers pay a fee. Under this bill, tourists may have a spot to consume, but most bars, nightclubs, etc. would still be barred from allowing open consumption.
Most media reports on these initiatives will claim they are "competing" bills. They are not in competition. Denver's voters can approve both bills, which would open the doors for social clubs and bar/restaurant consumption. Don't believe the media hype. We can – and should – have both.
Why This is Important
Pot's legal in Colorado, so who cares, right?
There's a few reasons to care.
One of the main reasons we fought for Amendment 64 was so courts would stop criminally prosecuting people for using a harmless plant. Black and Latino Americans experience higher arrest rates, convictions, and tougher sentences than white marijuana offenders. Although practically no one goes to jail anymore in Colorado just for possession or use, we've found that blacks and Latinos are ticketed at a much higher frequency than whites. Even after legalization, these same racial disparities still exist.
Another reason is that these public use bans affect residents way more than they affect tourists. More Colorado residents get slapped with public consumption tickets than anyone else, which seems somewhat antithetical to the whole point of legalization. It's not uncommon to see rental leases that disallow all use, so even residents will benefit from social use clubs or spaces.
And a third reason, which is largely ideological, is that these bans violate the flexibility of free markets and democracy. Because cannabis is so highly regulated in Colorado, we don't actually know how markets would behave if it were treated like any other recreational product (e.g. alcohol).
The state of Colorado – meaning we, the voters – determined this plant was safe and economically beneficial if used responsibly. Yet city officials think they know better than we do, the same officials who just so happened to oppose legalization at the start.