The vote was still up in the air days after election day, but now that the Initiated Ordinance 300 cannabis consumption pilot program has passed, voters have approved “cannabis cafes.”
The pilot program, passed by Denver voters with 53.3 percent support, allows the city and county of Denver to permit some businesses to serve customers who are also consuming cannabis. While the initiative left the door open to venues that serve both alcohol and cannabis, on November 18, the Colorado Department of Revenue passed rules to prohibit cannabis consumption on the premises of liquor licensees. Colorado officials cited public health concerns around consumption of both substances at once, and the potential for increased vehicle crash risk.
“After carefully considering all impacts to Coloradans and industry, this rule is in the best interests of public health and safety resulting from public and dual consumption,” Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Department of Revenue and and State Licensing Authority for both the Liquor Enforcement Division (LED) and the Marijuana Enforcement Division, said in a statement.
According to Colorado officials, members of the liquor industry mentioned concerns about people consuming cannabis at businesses licensed to sell alcohol, and after a series of meetings, and input from a number of groups, the CDOR’s Liquor Enforcement Division adopted rules that prohibit “dual consumption” of alcohol and cannabis at places licensed to sell and serve alcohol.
“We support the action of the Department of Revenue. There is substantial evidence that combined use of marijuana and alcohol increases impairment more than use of either substance alone. If marijuana use is allowed in establishments that hold a liquor license, dual use certainly would occur regularly and present a danger to public health and safety,” Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement.
In order for a business to be issued a permit to allow public consumption of cannabis from the director of excise and licenses, a business has to demonstrate community support from a business improvement district or “a recognized neighborhood organization at least two years old,” according to the voter guide. The cannabis consumption would need to take place only in a designated area, and like any other cannabis business, consumption can’t take place within 1,000 feet of a school. If the business is located outdoors, cannabis consumption can’t happen in view of passersby or “a place where children congregate.” Smoking cannabis leaf will be allowed at some outdoor events–again, out of public view–but only vaporizing and edible consumption will be allowed inside, in accordance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.
Like many areas of cannabis policy, there’s not much existing data to show the kind of impact that public consumption similar to alcohol might have on a community. One of the provisions of Initiative 300 is that the city will create a Cannabis Consumption Task Force.
This ordinance might just sound like another way for Denver residents to get high in a happy hour setting. But, according to the Denver Housing Authority, “more than 26,000 very low, low and middle income individuals representing over 10,000 families” live in public housing units or receive vouchers to help pay for housing, and are therefore not legally able to consume either medical or adult-use cannabis. (Read our Cannabis Wire Starter Kit explainer for more on the intersection of public housing and cannabis.)
And, 16.4 million visitors traveled to Denver last year, according to Visit Denver. For those people, it’s not easy to find a place to consume state-legal cannabis when it’s supposed to happen out of public view, away from parks, and away from schools. Many hotels don’t allow cannabis consumption, either. So this ordinance opens the door to both a different kind of tourism and a different way to do business.
The cannabis consumption pilot program is set to expire on December 31, 2020.
Image: Creative Commons
This piece was originally published on November 15, and was updated on November 22 to reflect the regulations around liquor licensees.