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Initiative 300: Denver Makes the Push for Social Cannabis Use

Bubba KushColorado won the label of cannabis pioneer in the United States years ago, but the state is at it again most recently with the passage of Initiative 300 this past presidential election. Initiative 300, or I 300 for short, proposes a four-year pilot program for the city to allow cannabis use in specifically defined public spaces.

Back in 2000, Colorado was one of the first states in the country to legalize medical marijuana. Then, in 2012, it became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis use, possession, and growth.

So let’s back up a little bit and explain where cannabis use in Colorado was at before Initiative 300 was proposed and passed. Under Proposition 64, the bill which legalized recreational cannabis use in the state, though it was allowable to own, grow, buy, and sell cannabis in Colorado, there were unclear rules and regulations put in place as to how that cannabis should be used, i.e. where its use should be allowed.

At this point, with so many states having already passed both medical and recreational cannabis legislation, there are a few standard rules that everyone is applying — keep it away from kids, keep it away from schools, don’t advertise it, and don’t drive while under the influence.

While the above rules definitely applied to Colorado’s Prop 64 legislation, the law also basically stated that Coloradans couldn’t use cannabis anywhere outside of a private residence.

As with most new legislation, it only took a little while for people to realize where some readjustment needed to be made. Restricting cannabis use solely to private residences isn’t as freeing as it might seem at first. And it affects both residents and out-of-towners who have flocked to Colorado for the harvest.

For many residents, whether renting or owning, their landlords or Home Owner’s Associations have banned the use of cannabis in the private residences. This is an issue for individuals who would like to partake in what is their right to partake in as a Coloradan citizen, but takes an even more serious turn when we realize how significant populations are being deeply affected by this restriction. Veterans, for instance, are a population which often turn to cannabis use to treat their PTSD, depression, or other aftereffects of military service, and also happen to oftentimes live in federal housing where cannabis use is banned.

As far as the tourist population goes, once they have visited all the great dispensaries that the state has to offer, where can they go afterwards? Unless they can find a private residence with a homeowner who permits cannabis use in their home that will let them stay a while and light up, those tourists have come all this way only to end up in illegal territory once again when they decide to smoke in a public park or on the sidewalk.

Initiative 300 aimed to resolve these first bumps in Prop 64 in a reasonable, comprehensive, and thoughtful way. Last November, Coloradans voted to pass Initiative 300 into legislation with 53.6% of the popular vote.

I 300 has been nicknamed the “Social Use Law” because it seeks a path to allowing consumption of cannabis on public premises, but not without taking the right precautions, having the right conversations, and enacting smart regulations first.

I 300 allows businesses to apply for these so-called social use licenses that would allow patrons to bring their own cannabis and use on the business’s premises. However, in order to be in compliance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Act, indoor use cannot be in the form of smoking (basically relegating indoor use to edible-only use). Outdoors, smoking can be allowed on the premises (similar to ordinances now in place for tobacco smoke in outdoor areas), but only in areas that are away from public view.

Businesses that apply for the license that will allow such social use on their locations are banned from selling and distributing cannabis on site, and the business cannot serve alcohol of any kind.

But Initiative 300 goes one step further to ensure that the neighborhood has buy-in. I 300 requires that any business which submits an application to obtain a social use permit must do so with the support of a city-registered neighborhood organization or Business Improvement District. That neighborhood organization or district, in exchange for their support of the applying company’s bid, will then set that location’s operating conditions and regulations. These can include restrictions on businesses limiting hours of operation and requiring businesses to provide pre-paid public transportation.

Aside from the regulatory framework which I 300 sets, the Initiative also calls for a special issue committee composed of residents, regulators, and cannabis opponents to meet regularly during the initiation of the bill in order to discuss and present recommendations on the implementation and regulation of public cannabis use.

Dubbed The Social Consumption Advisory Committee, this task force is charged with shaping the regulations the city proposes and keeping the public in the loop with public hearings throughout the year.

The Initiative aims to begin accepting applications for permits beginning in summer of 2017 and to begin issuing those permits not long thereafter. (Denver has already made applications available to businesses.)

A few businesses that have already shown interest are yoga studios and coffee shops.

Initiative 300 is a stellar example of smart and responsible legislation that belies the state’s dedication to seeing the will of the people through in a legal, justified, and regulated way. Just like its parent Proposition 64, I 300 has built in checkpoints along the way and  back exit for returning to the drawing board as the state, its representatives, and its constituents learn more.

With Denver blazing yet another trail in the recreational cannabis arena, it’s only a matter of time before other states follow suit.

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