Voters in Denver appear to have approved a pilot program legalizing marijuana lounges, though the vote tally remained uncomfortably close on Wednesday.
The City of Denver Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, on the ballot as Initiated Ordinance 300, was leading by less than half a percentage point, 100,284 votes for to 96,893 votes against, according to results on Wednesday afternoon.
If this result holds and the measure passes, Denver will have finally solved the problem of where its recreational cannabis users are supposed to smoke—four years after marijuana was legalized for adults 21 and over.
In Colorado as in eight other states now—after California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada all passed legalization measures, joining Oregon, Washington, and Alaska—adults 21 and over can purchase and possess cannabis, but they can’t smoke it in public without risking a citation and fine similar to a traffic ticket.
Currently, the only legal places to consume cannabis in Denver are in a private home or residence, at a private event, at a hotel that allows smoking—good luck finding one—and, in the oddest twist, in a for-hire vehicle like a party bus.
There are some private, members-only clubs that allow cannabis consumption in Denver, but until now they have operated in a legal gray area at best. The only truly legal marijuana-smoking lounges in America are in California, where medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco are allowed to apply for on-site smoking permits.
All this to say that the current situation is demonstrably silly, which is why Initiative 300 received mainstream support from some politicians and business leaders as well as the Denver Post.
Under the pilot program, “any business, including art galleries, coffee shops, entertainment venues, private clubs and more” would be able to apply for a cannabis consumption permit—which would be subject to very tight guidelines.
For instance, smoking would only be allowed in outdoor areas. Any indoor area would be vaping-only.
And while the idea of a bar patio where marijuana use would be allowed is alluring, the patio would have to be restricted to users 21 and over only, and would have to be concealed from public view.
It would also have to be more than 1,000 feet away from a school, park, playground, or anywhere else children might be present.
Businesses applying for a “cannabis consumption permit” would need an existing business license and would need to figure out a way to control the smell of freshly-ground, freshly-lit OG Kush or risk losing their permit.
And in order to get the permit in the first place, they’d need to be a nice neighbor and win support from any local merchant association or neighborhood group.
And should the social-use measure pass, it would be under a time crunch to prove itself worthy: It would end by 2020 unless extended by the City Council or by voters.
Phew. All that just to get a place to smoke in a semi-public place without the risk of being treated like a vagrant. And this is legalization!
Other states will have to wait over a year for legal adult-use cannabis lounges. Under California’s Prop. 64, businesses could indeed apply for such permission, but no permits would be issued until Jan. 1, 2018.
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