Updated 4:30 p.m. -- On Thursday, Denver’s department of Excise and Licenses quietly opened applications to businesses interested in being a little more green.
No, we aren’t talking about recycling. Interested businesses can now apply to allow marijuana consumption on their premises -- effectively allowing them to open legal marijuana clubs.
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The program stems from Initiative 300, which Denver voters approved on the 2016 ballot. Now begins a four-year pilot period, and another chapter in Colorado’s grand marijuana experiment.
Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, private pot clubs have always been legal, so long as they’re invitation only. The new program allows businesses conventionally open to the public -- like cafes or yoga studios -- to allow for marijuana consumption by customers over the age of 21.
This is the first time and place that any state in the country has brought such a program to life. But that distinction doesn’t mean everyone’s necessarily happy with it. The backers of Initiative 300 have publicly expressed dismay at the final rules, which they claim make the program so restrictive that it undermines the will of the voters.
The rules were developed earlier this year by a committee of 20 stakeholders -- including members of the marijuana industry, city council members and concerned community groups -- and approved on June 30. In addition to Initiative 300’s caveat that would keep social use licensees at least 1,000 feet from schools, the committee also added distance restrictions to keep them at least 1,000 feet away from daycares, public recreation -- public parks and community pools -- and alcohol and drug treatment facilities.
Emmett Reistroffer, who works with Denver Relief Consulting, and also worked on the “Yes on 300” campaign, was one of the members of the city’s advisory council. He believes his side did not get a fair shake, and he expressed his frustration with the rules in an email to committee members, several Denver city officials and an assortment of media outlets earlier this month. Reistroffer and others who fought for Initiative 300 want marijuana regulated like alcohol, and to them, these rules set an unfair double standard.
“For example, at a popular concert space near 13th and Grant, we are well beyond the 1k ft buffers from everything including schools, daycares and city-owned pools and rec centers at this corner, however we're just shy of 1k ft. away from the Third Way Treatment Center,” Reistroffer wrote. “This is incredibly insulting and frustrating because Third Way is literately (sic) surrounded by nearly 20 liquor licensed establishments within a 500 ft. radius, including some of Denver's largest nightclubs (Vinyl and Church), but we can't have a consumption area permit 975 ft. away inside a completely enclosed and ventilated building structure!!!???!!!???”
He added in all capital letters: “ 300 IS DESTINED TO FAIL BECAUSE OF THESE RULES!!!!!” Later in that email, Reistroffer threatened to sue the city, saying he felt taken advantage of. Reistroffer has since said he and other members of the Initiative 300 campaign are considering all their options before suing.
On the other side of the table, some members of the committee feel the the final rules are not restrictive enough. Rachel O’Bryan, who ran the “Protect Denver’s Atmosphere -- Vote No On 300” campaign, also sat on the city’s advisory committee, and had a hand in developing the rules. She said she would have liked to see an additional distance restriction that would have kept social use licensees away from homes. Otherwise, O’Bryan feels the final rules managed a good balancing act between all parties at the table.
Whether or not social use is destined to fail in Denver will remain to be seen. At last check, a spokesman for the department of excise and licenses said they have not received applications on day one, but they have spoken to a few interested business owners already. The department will open applications for special event licenses next month.