Denver Tackles Pot Tourists’ Biggest Problem: Where To Smoke It

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Photo: Marijuana 4/20 rally 2015 (AP)
Pot revelers smoke during a mass lighting ceremony to mark the 4/20 marijuana holiday Monday, April 20, 2015, in Denver.

After they've bought their buds and brownies, tourists visiting Denver to try marijuana often have trouble with one final detail before they get high: a legal place to do it.

Delanie Mason, a budtender at LoDo Wellness in downtown, understands the challenge and has to inform tourists there’s no smoking in the store -- or on the street, or in parks, or in most hotels.

"I tell them it’s up to their discretion as to what they want to do with that information," she said. "I can’t tell anybody to break the law."

To dodge the law, many tourists have turned to edible marijuana, which is more discrete – nearly 5 million edibles were consumed in Colorado last year. But Tom Shoulders, who road tripped here with a friend from California, wants to smoke it.

"I’d be polite about it," Shoulders said. "No one’s going to care, dude."

No one, maybe, except for the Denver Police Department. Its officers handed out more than 1,000 public consumption citations in 2014.

The situation is not what pot advocates had in mind when they promoted making recreational marijuana use legal. The Marijuana Policy Project collected signatures to put yet another measure on the ballot -- this time allowing pot use at many bars and restaurants in Denver.

"Our intention with pursuing this initiative was to reduce the likelihood that adults would consume marijuana publicly, on the streets or in parks and instead consume it in private establishments," campaign spokesman Mason Tvert said as he stood in front of Denver's City and County Building in early September.

In an odd twist, Tvert was there to pull the measure from the ballot, after the city came to his group looking for a negotiated solution.

"It’s been too many years of people passing these laws and the city resisting it," Tvert said. "We were very excited to work with the city together to create a policy that everybody agrees is the best step forward."

City Councilman Albus Brooks, who has lots of nervous bar and restaurant owners in his downtown district, reached out to the marijuana advocates.

"I had a pretty frank conversation with them," Brooks said.

But they got his attention and now the city is working on crafting a pot club ordinance. Brooks won’t go into detail what he envisions. And it’s still not clear how the city will address concerns about stoned driving.

As he sits on a bench in a park near his home, the smell of marijuana is in the air. Children, Brooks said, shouldn't be exposed to that in public.

'We are putting together legislation for their future," he said. "It has to be thoughtful."

A thoughtful approach could take months though, still leaving many with nowhere to use.

Like Nick Kissinger, from Wisconsin. He left the LoDo Wellness pot shop confused as to what to do with his purchase.

"I guess you got to break the law," Kissinger said. "They should change that."