Shortly after its announcement, the series stirred confusion over what is and is not considered a public event where you can or can’t have pot.
Even the seemingly obvious phrase “public event” was up for scrutiny -- as the orchestra quickly discovered.
What was once billed as a ticketed, music-plus-marijuana program open to the public had to be refocused, thanks to a letter from the City of Denver warning the Colorado Symphony against proceeding with a ticketed concert held in a commercial establishment.
After becoming acquainted with the new law’s fine print, the orchestra converted the gallery evening into a private social gathering solely for professional members of the fast-growing pot industry, along with a few select friends of the Symphony.
People may be puzzled about the many do’s and don'ts surrounding the legalization of pot. But local government remains emphatic about the law’s intention.
In an emailed response to the recent flurry of public smoking, as well as the sprouting of numerous cannabis-related businesses, Amber Miller, the Mayor’s press secretary, reiterated the City of Denver’s regulations on the consumption of marijuana: “The state and city laws are very clear. It is illegal to consume marijuana in public.”
Miller includes music venues, sidewalks, rooftop cafes, bars and restaurants among those locations deemed public.
She also reports the City has sent out several letters each week since Amendment 64 went into effect in January, reminding organizations that the law is not a blank check for pot-smokers and pot businesses.
There are parameters that must be understood and followed, such as where and by whom marijuana can be displayed, sold and consumed.
For example, it can be sold only by “legitimate, taxpaying business people, and not criminal actors.” The voter-approved amendment also stipulates how much pot an individual can possess and how many plants can be grown in the home.
As Colorado organizations of all types and sizes work to capitalize on the state’s hottest industry, those parameters are certainly being tested -- although few if any of these entrepreneurial entities actively intend to sidestep the regulations.
“I spoke with a lawyer who’s familiar with the law,” Denver artist and teacher Heidi Keyes says. Keyes is the creator of a home-based, pot-inspired painting class she calls “Puff, Pass and Paint.”
Keyes made sure she wasn’t in violation of the Colorado Indoor Clean Air Act, which regulates secondhand smoke.
“What I do is legal, because I’m in a private home in a residential-zoned neighborhood,” she says.
That’s not the case with the Space Gallery, which is located in a commercially zoned neighborhood. That’s why the City intervened when the Colorado Symphony offered its concerts to the public there.
So what happens at a “Puff, Pass and Paint” event?
Keyes takes on students who pay $40 for a two-hour class held in the studio of her Capitol Hill home. All are encouraged to get high, though they must bring their own marijuana as the law forbids Keyes from acting as dealer.
The ages of the hundreds of students who’ve partaken since January of this year stretch from those in their 20s to a few octogenarians. No one under 21 is allowed. Some younger participants invite a parent or grandparent to serve as designated driver once class has ended.
“I’m not enabling,” Keyes says, adding that she had done all of her homework to make sure her business is legal and visible, going as far as to inform the State’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.
Awareness of the law likewise guides Mark Prescott in his tourism business, Cultivated Travel, which caters to out-of-town, out-of-state and even out-of-country visitors, anxious to sample the high life in the Mile High City.
“We tell people how to follow the rules,” Prescott says. “I’ll pick someone up at the airport and they’ll immediately want to toke up. But I tell them it’s illegal on airport grounds and it’s technically illegal to smoke in a limo.”
And then off they go to visit dispensaries and other pot-friendly establishments.
Prescott embraces the new culture around legal weed, though he insists on acting within the confines of the law.
“Our city is not about marijuana,” Prescott says. “If you want to be a recreational user, fine. Use it at home.”
That said, Prescott admits to dancing around the fringes of what is legal.
For example, he encourages his customers to rent a small device known as a vaporizer -- or “vape,” as it’s known -- in which a battery-powered heating element burns pot at 350 degrees, thus reducing the smoke and aroma.
“The vape allows out-of-town people to consume cannabis in their hotel room or in a restaurant’s restroom,” Prescott says. The tour guide recently used his vape in Coors Field’s smoking section before returning to his seat.
But isn’t that illegal?
Prescott ducks the question, pointing to traffic laws and the like that are broken every day. He also points out there’s no mention of vaporizers in Amendment 64; the device follows the same principle used in perfectly legal e-cigarettes.
Acknowledging that there are numerous gray areas in the new laws, Prescott boasts that fans of pot are feeling emboldened.
“We’re not hiding behind the shadows anymore,” Prescott says.
As for his role in giving proper pot instruction to his many clients -- he’s had 200 in the last 90 days -- the tour guide takes a step back:
“I report -- you decide,” Prescott says. “Just like Fox News.”
A byproduct of Amendment 64’s passage is the unexpected explosion of new businesses by entrepreneurs. Here’s a sampling of some pot-themed cultural events and opportunities.
When the fair returns on August 1-3 to the National Western Complex, it will include what is being called the nation’s first Pot Pavilion. No consumption or possession will be permitted. But the Pavilion features bongs and other accessories for purchase and there will be hotly contested competitions in all manner of pot-growing categories. The Pavilion will be on a separate, upstairs level, where visitors must be 21 or older. Some of the judging of marijuana strains will take place off-site.
Billed as a “multi-day counter culture expo,” this gathering of pot-growing competitors, vendors and exhibitors takes place July 10-13 at the Grassroots Marketplace, 2209 Larimer St., Denver. Bands, DJs, comedians and others will entertain the 21+ crowd. Food and beverages will be available -- but pot will not.
After Friday’s invitation-only chamber concert at the Space Gallery, members of the orchestra will return to the gallery for similar programs on July 18 and August 15. The “Classically Cannabis” series concludes on September 13 when the full orchestra plays Red Rocks, where vendors will display their wares. No weed allowed.
More than a dozen such programs are offered to those anxious to live the dream of buying and smoking legally. Among them is Mark Prescott’s Cultivated Travel.
Marc Shulgold is a freelance writer, teacher and lecturer. He was previously the longtime music and dance writer at the Rocky Mountain News.
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