Denver Ordinance Could Ban Pot Again

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Proposed new pot rules in Denver could effectively make it impossible to smoke weed anywhere in the city, despite the voter initiative that made pot legal last year.

Civil liberties advocates and a Denver City Council member have attacked the proposal as a sweeping “sniff test” that would take most pot use legalized under 2012’s Amendment 64 and make it criminal again.

The proposed amendments to the city’s marijuana ordinance would bar possession, use, display, transfer, distribution, sale, transport or growing of marijuana in any park or recreational facility, including the 16th Street Mall, a longtime hangout for pot smokers. Violators could face fines of up to $999 and up to a year in jail.

SmokeThat means simply walking across a city park with an eighth in your pocket could get you arrested and jailed – exactly the opposite of the result voters intended when they passed Amendment 64. And there would be no more public pot giveaways in city parks.

Mark Silverstein, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the proposal is a “tremendous overreach, ill-advised, unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

It’s already illegal to openly or publicly use marijuana, but the proposal will change the definitions to include any consumption that can be smelled by the public. That could include aroma escaping from vehicles and private residences.

The ordinance amendments, if passed, could make it impossible to smoke up in apartment or condominium buildings, where tokers may not be able to control whether marijuana smells escape their property.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Council Member Chris Nevitt cooked up the proposal. Another council member, Susan Shepherd, called it an effort to kill Amendment 64 within Denver city limits. The proposal, she said, is “very, very broad and far-reaching.”

“It’s basically an attempt to nullify much of Amendment 64 by making the ordinance so overly restrictive in regard to where and how marijuana could be consumed,” Shepherd said.

“The most glaring part of it is that consumption on private premises was going to be so tight as to basically exclude being able to smoke in your backyard or on your front porch or even inside your home,” she said. “Let’s say you’re sitting on your couch in your living room with your windows open, and the smoke comes out. And then there’s how it would effect multi-unit dwelling structures, like condominiums or apartment buildings. If you really said you couldn’t consume on private property if others could detect the smell, a condo owner would literally have no place in the city where they could consume legally, quote unquote, under that particular ordinance.”

Shepherd called the possession provisions of the ordinance amendments especially troubling. Walking through a park or the 16th Street Mall with marijuana shouldn’t be illegal anymore, she said.

“The words ‘possession’ and ‘transport’ are used way too liberally,” she said. “You could argue that there’s a reasonable concern about displaying it publicly and public use. But having it be against the ordinance just to have it on your person is ridiculous.”

Shepherd pointed out the proposal would make it illegal to carry pot on the city’s trail system, which many residents use to commute. And she wondered why Hancock and Nevitt were pursuing this proposal in the first place, since Amendment 64 already bans public consumption.

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