The Search for a Place to Toke Up


Denver has a bunch of businesses where you can legally buy marijuana but none where you can legally use it. That is supposed to change under a local ballot initiative approved by voters last fall. But a statewide solution to Colorado's cannabis consumption conundrum has been derailed by fears of a federal crackdown.

Amendment 64, the 2012 ballot initiative that made Colorado the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, allows adults 21 and older to use it at home. But Amendment 64 does not apply to "consumption that is conducted openly and publicly," which is a petty offense punishable by a $100 fine. Because the meaning of "openly and publicly" is a matter of dispute, finding places to enjoy the marijuana that has been sold by state-licensed retailers since 2014 remains a tricky proposition.

In Denver, which banned marijuana use not only in parks and on sidewalks but in all businesses open to the public, frustrated cannabis consumers put the issue to a vote. Initiative 300, which was approved by 54 percent of voters in November, lets customers of specially licensed businesses use marijuana they bring with them.

Under Amendment 64, those establishments cannot include pot shops, and state alcohol regulators say bars may not allow marijuana use either. But any other business can seek a city permit to create a "designated consumption area," provided it is not within 1,000 feet of a school and has the support of "an eligible neighborhood organization." The city, which at press time was still working on details such as whether and where pot smoking (as opposed to vaping or edible consumption) will be allowed, planned to start accepting permit applications this summer.

At the state level, meanwhile, legislators in April gutted a bill that would have authorized "marijuana membership clubs" because they worried about how Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an old-fashioned pot prohibitionist, might respond. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had threatened to veto the bill, citing "the uncertainty in Washington."

Instead of allowing cannabis clubs wherever they are not prohibited by local law, the revised bill authorizes local governments to legalize them. "I'd like to see [a bill] that goes much further," Rep. Jonathan Singer (D–Longmont) told the Associated Press. "But in a year with Jeff Sessions, a small first step is better than no step at all."

Other states have learned from Colorado's difficulties when it comes to defining spaces outside of private residences where marijuana use will be allowed. The legalization initiatives approved by voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada last year all leave the door open to on-site consumption in businesses that sell cannabis.