Denver has scaled back a proposed law against open and public consumption of marijuana after an earlier version would have banned even the smell of pot from people’s backyards.
A new draft of the law to be introduced to City Council on Monday would allow people to smoke in their backyards, would let them possess marijuana in parks and on the 16th Street Mall, and would make violations petty offenses that carry a maximum $100 fine and/or 24 hours of community service.
“Compromise is alive and well in the city and county of Denver,” said Councilman Chris Nevitt, who worked with Mayor Michael Hancock’s office to draft the proposed law.
Initially, the law would have forbidden people from smoking marijuana in their backyards, made it illegal to possess pot in parks and on the 16th Street Mall, and levied penalties of up to $999 and a year in jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union protested, saying the proposed law would be unconstitutional. Marijuana-industry officials said the tough rules would have recriminalized marijuana, which was legalized for adult use in Colorado under Amendment 64.
The new draft of the ordinance eliminates the reference to smell as constituting “open and public consumption,” leaving odor complaints to Environmental Health inspectors.
The draft that still must be approved by the City Council would allow marijuana “possession” but would ban “display and distribution” in parks and throughout central downtown, expanding the area from just the 16th Street Mall.
“Anyone is free to have marijuana in these locations; they are only prohibited from waving it around,” Nevitt said in an e-mail to other councilmembers.
Nevitt further explained that open display, such as a joint behind the ear or a bag of pot in the hand, will be legal elsewhere, just not in city parks or downtown.
Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, called the new draft legislation “much improved,” and he is pleased the city “no longer seeks to recriminalize possession of marijuana.”
But the draft ordinance continues to violate Amendment 64 “by making it unlawful to ‘display’ marijuana in public places,” Silverstein wrote in an e-mail to The Denver Post. “Amendment 64 specifically states that ‘display’ shall not be unlawful.”
Under the new draft, “open” and “public” use would forbid outdoor locations that are visible from a public place. Smoking in a private backyard not visible from a public street would be legal. But consuming marijuana in the front yard or on a front porch, visible from the street, would be prohibited.
“We want to minimize the degree to which Denver citizens on the streets of our city are subjected to the obvious presence of marijuana,” Nevitt said. “That is why it is written: If you are visible from a public space, we would just assume that you would not consume your marijuana in an open fashion.”
Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jpmeyerdpost
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