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Denver voters to decide social consumption; cannabis hero's legacy will live on



Denver voters will get a say in "social" pot use. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Denver voters will get a say in "social" pot use.

Public consumption

One of the two initiatives aiming to protect and expand social cannabis consumption in Denver has made the ballot.

The Denver elections division announced on Aug. 29 that "Responsible Use Denver" — the NORML-backed initiative to establish licensing for private marijuana clubs and special events — fell short of the 4,726 valid signatures it needed. But the other proposal, colloquially called "the social use campaign," surpassed that threshold by turning in around 10,800 signatures.

If Denver voters approve it on Nov. 8, "City of Denver Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program," as it's officially titled, would create a new permit that would allow businesses to establish areas where patrons can legally consume cannabis products.

The certification of this ballot question means Denver could be the first community in the state to tackle one of the more vexing legislative conundrums — that cannabis consumption is only legal in private homes, which leaves tourists, many renters and others without anywhere to exercise their constitutional right.

It's a situation thus far remedied by the establishment of so-called cannabis clubs, where adults can pay a membership fee to hang out in a private social club that allows for smoking, dabbing, vaping, etc. These clubs have had a troubled relationship with municipalities that have tended to view them exploiting a gray area in the law. Colorado Springs, as CannaBiz has extensively reported, even went so far as banning them outright.

Should the social use initiative pass, marijuana businesses like dispensaries, cultivation facilities and infused product manufacturers couldn't apply for the permit, due to licensing restrictions under state law. But bars, cafés and even yoga studios would all be fair game.

Permitted consumption areas would have to comply with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, be more than 1,000 feet from schools and, if outdoors, be invisible from all public rights-of-way. Notably, the ordinance dictates that the city could only grant the permit to businesses that have the affirmative support of "eligible" neighborhood associations or business improvement districts.

Denver would also have to establish a task force to study the impact of the pilot program. After four years, the trial period will expire and the city could keep the ordinance, tweak it or toss it.

Activists, industry leaders and some business owners are lining up behind the campaign.

Dan Rowland, marijuana policy spokesman for the city of Denver, told The Cannabist that the certification of this ballot question will spur a hard look at the potential legal implications of a municipal ordinance that permits an activity prohibited under state law. (A bill to establish licensure of marijuana consumption clubs failed in the state legislature last session, but is likely to resurface in the next.)

Cities around the state — whether they've allowed cannabis clubs, banned them, or ignored them — can watch what goes down in Denver over the coming months for a preview of what's sure to follow well beyond city limits.

Legacy lives on

Colorado's cannabis community is mourning the death of one if its heroes.

Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old Jefferson County resident, is credited with changing the law twice, opening up access to lifesaving medicine for kids like him, who suffer from debilitating medical conditions.

He died peacefully at his home last week from complications of cerebral palsy.

Splitt and his mother, Stacey Linn, were instrumental in lobbying the state legislature to require school districts to allow parents to administer medical marijuana products to qualifying students during the school day. Though Splitt couldn't speak, he shared written testimony with lawmakers that explained how cannabis helped keep his excruciating pain at bay so he could learn. Now, thanks to his efforts, other special-needs kids from around the state will get the treatment they need.

According to The Cannabist, the service, held at Denver Botanic Gardens' Chatfield Farms, was well attended by high-powered lawyers, lobbyists, lawmakers, kids in wheelchairs, special education teachers, and cannabis advocates donning Broncos jerseys to honor Splitt's devotion to the team.

Not only did Splitt change the way this state thinks about juvenile medical marijuana patients, he also changed public perceptions about what special-needs kids can accomplish.

During the eulogy, Rep. Jonathan Singer, the Longmont Democrat who carried what's now called "Jack's Law" earlier this year, reportedly asked, "How many 15-year-olds change the world the way Jack did?"

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