Denver City Council Flip-Flops, Voting to Allow Pot Smoking in Front Yards


Denver City Council

Last night the Denver City Council, which last week voted to ban pot smoking in outdoor areas on private property that are visible from streets or sidewalks, reversed itself. The council approved an amendment introduced by Councilwoman Susan Shepherd that restores a provision protecting marijuana consumption on private residential property, whether indoor or outdoor, as long as the consumer has the owner's consent. Assuming the current version of the ordinance wins a second vote next Monday, Denver residents will be allowed to consume marijuana on their front porches, patios, and balconies.

The vote was 7 to 6, thanks to a switch by Councilman Albus Brooks, who told The Denver Post he changed his mind after hearing from community leaders during the Thanksgiving break and thinking about the potential for discriminatory enforcement. "Their concerns were about private property rights and overpolicing in some of our neighborhoods," Brooks said. "It's a tough issue. Fear sometimes causes us to protect and doesn't allow our city to grow."

The council had already eliminated the widely ridiculed "smell test," which would have prohibited pot smoking even in fenced back yards if the odor could be detected by neighbors or passers-by. It also nixed a ban on mere possession of marijuana in parks and other recreation areas, which would have barred people from carrying legally purchased cannabis on public biking and walking trails. Likewise, the current version of the bill allows mere possession on the 16th Street Mall, so that people who buy marijuana there do not have to leave immediately.

The bill does seem to prohibit marijuana consumption in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants that are "clearly observable from a public place," such as patio tables adjoining a sidewalk. The state legislature has amended the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act to cover pot smoking inside bars and restaurants, and consumption will not be allowed in or near marijuana retailers. That still leaves a few possibilities for people hoping to consume marijuana in social settings other than private residences. By its terms, the state smoking ban does not cover vaporizers or edibles, and even pot smoking might be legal in outdoor areas of Denver bars or restaurants that are concealed from public view, such as courtyards or fenced patios.