The next phase of legalization in Colorado began Feb. 29, when Denver NORML launched a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana clubs and special events. On the surface, it might seem like it's mainly about recreational users having places to consume in social situations outside their homes. But using cannabis publicly is really about human rights and public safety.
Right now, residents of Colorado and other legal states can only legally consume marijuana products at home. That causes problems for people - mainly renters - who aren't allowed to because the property owner bans marijuana use, as they're entitled to do under state law. So marijuana is legal, but those residents can't use it, which leads to frustration and law-breaking, according to Jordan Person, Executive Director of Denver NORML.
"We expect there will be a wide range of clubs to serve Denver's huge and diverse marijuana market," Person said in a press release. "What can't continue is the current situation that leaves so many people frustrated, angry, and tempted to violate the law so they can enjoy a legal product."
Restrictive laws affect medical marijuana users
That situation can also cause tremendous problems for medical marijuana patients such as Jonathan Doezier, who spoke out in favor of clubs at a city council meeting Feb. 24. Councillors were holding a hearing ahead of a Mar. 8 vote to decide both the fate of clubs that are currently operating illegally in the area, and the future of clubs in general.
"My landlord won't let me smoke inside," said Denver resident Jonathan Doezier. "Y'all won't let me smoke outside. In order to smoke cannabis legally, what do you recommend I do if you ban these clubs? I came from Afghanistan with PTSD. I fought for that flag right there in that corner, and I did it in the name of freedom. All I'm asking for is freedom now."
Another advocate attending that meeting was Jason Warf - Executive Director of Southern Colorado Cannabis Council. He argued that clubs are needed to ensure public safety and to accommodate tourists.
"The biggest benefit to the community is safety," he told KKTV News. "They do offer that place for tourists and for people who can't smoke cannabis in their place of dwelling....Our owners and our clubs don't see these places as a place for sales, but they are a business, a needed business."
Like Denver NORML, Warf doesn't intend for clubs to distribute marijuana like bars sell alcohol. Instead, they would provide a space where patrons can bring and consume their own cannabis discreetly.
Washington banned social clubs last year
Elsewhere, the state legislature of Washington formally outlawed cannabis clubs last summer. Meanwhile, legislators in Alaska and Washington, D.C. have been mulling over the idea of letting residents use cannabis in designated public spaces.
Meanwhile, unlicensed clubs have also sprung up in Alaska, and legislators are arguing bitterly over the issue in Washington, D.C. And in Oregon, social clubs became illegal on Jan. 1, forcing many small businesses to close down or face fines.
So for advocates and consumers, legalization is a good first step. But people who consume cannabis also need a place to do it.