Denver ballot item on public marijuana consumption sparks Summit County discussion
October 20, 2016
A ballot initiative in Denver could allow people or businesses to apply for a permit to let customers consume cannabis in designated locations.
If passed, Initiative 300 can give adults 21 and over a place to consume pot socially. It also aims to give tourists a safe and legal way to use marijuana. The initiative is a pilot program, which will end Dec. 31, 2020, unless extended by Denver's city council or by another ballot initiative.
Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits in Silverthorne, thinks that a ballot initiative like this is beneficial to everyone.
"The fact that we don't have places where people can consume is an endangerment for our communities in my opinion," Wolf said. "It forces tourists to consume outside, it forces them to consume in their cars while they're driving, which doesn't make it safe for anybody, but it also doesn't make it safe for our tourists who are coming here to Summit County."
Wolf said there's added concern for tourists, most of whom are coming from places where smoking cannabis is illegal. Getting a ticket in Colorado for smoking marijuana could cause them to have difficulties in their local communities or jobs.
"That would be sad if someone got a consumption in public ticket just because we don't provide a safe space as a community for them to consume," he said.
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Alex Levine, the director of operations for Green Dragon Cannabis Co., which has a dispensary in Breckenridge, said that unlike some locals, tourists don't have the option to smoke in their residence. Many hotels won't allow pot on the premises. He also said that tourists can now purchase the same amount of marijuana as local Coloradans. Without an ordinance like this in place, he said it could force tourists to consume illegally.
Certain regulations have been written into the Denver ordinance, such as where the marijuana can be consumed and how. Establishments cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school, for instance. Indoor locations must also comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, so smokable forms of pot are out of the question. But, locations with an outdoor area that is not visible to the public, can allow smoking as long as the permit holder has an odor control plan.
John Minor, the police chief of Silverthorne, said he foresees problems with an ordinance like this. He said that if someone smokes outside and the smoke blows over a different business, it could create a dispute.
"I can see potential headaches with this all over the place," Minor said. "I'm not into creating messes."
Since the ordinance states that permit holders must follow the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, Dan Hendershott, the environmental health manager for Summit, said that if the bill passes in Denver, his office will follow its progress in case a similar ordinance comes here.
To complete the permit application with the city of Denver, applicants must provide proof of support from a local eligible neighborhood association. The individual associations can also put additional restrictions on applicants such as hours of use, advertising restrictions or plans to address customers driving under the influence of marijuana.
For businesses like Cultivating Spirits, which gives customers a culinary cannabis experience, it can be difficult navigating within the current confines of marijuana laws. The company's most popular package is a Food, Wine and Cannabis Tour. Cultivating Spirits has a brick and mortar location for the dinner portion of the tour, but the company has to take customers off-site for them to buy marijuana. Wolf said that his business partners with dispensaries, such as High Country Healing in Silverthorne, for the cannabis portion of the tour. Cultivating Spirits will take customers on a limo tour where they will go to the dispensary so customers can purchase pot, which Wolf then says must be consumed inside the limo at a legal location. A similar ordinance in Summit County could make things simpler for Wolf.
"To be able to consume while we do our dinners would make it a lot easier for us, because right now we really have to operate within the legalities of everything so we have to get very creative with how we run the tours, and the flow of the tours," Wolf said.
Wolf has been in the Colorado cannabis industry since opening a medical dispensary in Colorado Springs in 2009. He has also worked as a grow consultant. He opened Cultivating Spirits in March of 2014.
Wolf said that while a ballot initiative like this may not directly impact dispensaries, it does give them the potential for business partnerships with restaurants or other businesses that obtain permits.
Wolf also said that the community support aspect of the bill was not a worry for his particular business. He said he made it a point to address community concern when he opened Cultivating Spirits. He added that if community members and people seeking this type of permit came together, it would be more beneficial.
"I think it's very important to be operating with the community because all of the problems that people see in this, and obviously there's different opinions within that, they can all be addressed if we just come together and put in the proper regulations," Wolf said. "It can be good for everybody, and it can benefit everybody, but it's just getting the people to want to do that."
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