You can’t walk down a street in Denver, says Kayvan Khalatbari, without smelling cannabis; a public marijuana use initiative being put to city voters on the ballot this November could change that.
Khalatbari, who helped present more than 10,800 signatures to Denver Elections division officials last month in support of a social cannabis use ballot initiative, says the absence of cannabis-friendly venues like bars and restaurants is forcing people to smoke on the streets or other public places.
“We can purchase and possess cannabis but we can’t consume it anywhere legally, and that’s created a conundrum, not only for tourists but for residents living in landlord-controlled buildings or veterans in federal housing,” said Khalatbari.
“We’ve created a huge issue with regard to public consumption tickets where streets, sidewalks and parks are [full of] people consuming cannabis in front of people who don’t want to be around it.”
Last week, The Denver Elections Division approved Khalatbari's initiative, known as the Neighborhood-Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program (NSCCPP) – just days after rejecting a competing measure by Denver NORML that failed to acquire enough signatures.
What that means is that on Nov. 8, residents will now get to vote on whether regular businesses (such as bars, cafés, etc.) should be able to offer indoor or outdoor cannabis consumption; an initiative that would get the smell of cannabis off the sidewalks and away from children and others who don’t want to engage with it, said Khalatbari.
Included in the initiative are several conditions businesses would need to adhere to in order to get a temporary or annual permit for the designation. One such condition would require businesses to receive backing from a neighborhood group, like a city-registered neighborhood organization or business improvement district. Such groups would then be permitted to make suggestions on business operations.
The community-oriented clause is an essential part of the proposal according to Khalatbari.
"[It will allow NSCCPP] to engage with as many stakeholders as we can to make sure that is these businesses are going in these neighborhoods, that they’re considerate of the needs and concerns of those neighborhoods.”
“The cannabis industry is thrown under the bus quite a bit here in Denver for things that it really has no involvement in creating a detriment to,” added Khalatbari. “This is just kind of a way to get ahead of that and say, ‘Fine, you think we’re not engaging with our communities enough? We believe we are, but we’re going to go one step beyond what we’re already doing, what most businesses are doing, and engage them on the front end of this.’”
More than 60 local organizations and businesses are listed on NSCCPP’s website as having expressed their support for the initiative. Khalatbari said he is feeling confident about the outcome in November.
“Denver is very progressive when it comes to this topic; [residents] are willing to take chances on it as long as it’s well thought out, which I think this is,” he said. “I think the time is right.”
If it doesn't work out, the initiative could have a limited shelf life. The measure would expire in 2020 unless city officials extend it.
Banner image: Views of the main shopping street 16th Street in Denver on August 25, 2015. On this street are free public buses driving and it provides a lot of shopping opportunities. (Oscity / Shutterstock.com)