Denver official slams public pot as activists take issue off November ballot

Save that fat blunt for a little while longer.

Restaurants and bars that would allow patrons to smoke marijuana on their premises won’t be doing that any time soon, after sponsors of a ballot measure to allow pot in public asked the city of Denver to pull the question off the November ballot Thursday. The decision to yank the question was almost scuttled by a brief confrontation between the sponsors and a city official.

The ballot initiative would have asked Denver voters to allow consumption of marijuana in limited public settings under several guidelines. The first is that any business that is restricted to adults 21 and over and that has a license to sell alcohol for onsite consumption could decide whether to allow marijuana on the premises. Next, to keep the initiative in accordance with the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking marijuana could take place only in existing designated smoking areas that are not viewable to the public. Marijuana edibles could be used indoors.

Businesses that allow smoking pot on their premises would not sell marijuana. Any consumer who wanted to use it would have to bring it in.

Mason Tvert, who leads the Campaign for Limited Social Cannabis Use, told reporters Thursday that the city and business organizations had agreed to work with the initiative backers to develop a social cannabis consumption law. That informal agreement includes representatives of the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association. Several city council members and City Attorney Scott Martinez also are involved in those discussions.

“The voters want this. We had to prove it by getting enough signatures to put it on the ballot, and only then” was the city willing to come to the table to work this out, Tvert said. He estimates that it will likely take a year to come up with a compromise. However, if a compromise is not reached, he said he will get signatures to put the same or a similar question on the issue on the November 2016 ballot.

Tvert said he tried to engage the city in negotiations on the issue for about 18 months without progress. That changed after the petitions were submitted with more than double the number of signatures required. “We are hopeful the city will live up to its commitment to work with us to develop a law to allow adults to consume marijuana socially in certain establishments,” Tvert said.

But the decision to withdraw the initiative got put on hold for a few minutes after a tense confrontation between Tvert and Alton Dillard, senior public information officer for Denver’s Elections Division.

Dillard showed up just prior to the start of a 2:30 p.m. news conference held by Tvert at the Denver City-County Building. Dillard told reporters the ballot measure would cost the city about $22,000 and indicated it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

That didn’t sit well with Tvert, who walked away from the news conference with his attorney to decide whether to pull the ballot measure. After about 10 minutes, he told reporters he believed the city had acted in good faith, and he would ask that the question be taken off the ballot.

Dillard appeared to have acted on his own, without notifying his boss, City Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson. When asked if she was aware that Dillard had gone to the press conference, Johnson told The Colorado Independent she had been in meetings all day. As to the expenses to the city for reviewing the petitions, Johnson said she is mandated to do that, regardless of cost.

Photo credit: Coleen Whitfield, Creative Commons, Flickr.