There were ballot wins for marijuana in Colorado too

Paul Danish/Sue France

Although state-wide marijuana legalization initiatives like the ones in California, Massachusetts, Florida and elsewhere got most of the attention, several Colorado communities voted on marijuana questions as well.

And in two cases the initiatives had national implications.

In Denver, it was announced a week after the election (November 15) that Initiative 300 had passed. The initiative allows certain existing businesses, including bars and restaurants, to obtain a city-issued permit to create marijuana “consumption areas.” Denver becomes the first major city in the country where marijuana could be used somewhere besides the privacy of one’s home.

Passage is only slightly less important for the marijuana legalization movement than the state legalization initiatives (eight out of nine of which passed), because allowing marijuana to be legally consumed in public places is a major step toward genuinely making marijuana co-equal with alcohol as a legal recreational drug.

As of Tuesday morning, Initiative 300 had a 20,055 vote lead, with only 10,000 to 12,000 ballots remaining to be counted. The measure was supported by 53.3 percent of those who voted on the issue.

But while Initiative 300 is a major step to normalizing marijuana use, it is also a tentative one. The initiative creates a four-year pilot program, which would terminate at the end of 2020 unless the Denver City Council makes it permanent. And in six months the council would have the option of repealing or making changes to the ordinance with a two-thirds majority.

Moreover, a business seeking a permit for a marijuana consumption area will have to obtain the backing of a local registered neighborhood organization or a business improvement district.

Longtime marijuana legalization activist Mason Tvert said he thought Initiative 300 “is really going to set an example” nationally.

“This is a pilot program,” he said at a press conference. “This is something the City can experiment with for the next couple of years and either adopt it permanently or make tweaks to it or decide to take a different approach.”

One motivation behind the initiative was to provide more places for tourists to use pot.

The marijuana consumption areas created under Initiative 300 could be either indoors or outdoors. Indoor areas would allow vaping or edibles but not smoking, while smoking would be allowed in the outdoor areas. Users would have to bring their own pot; sales would still be confined to dispensaries.

In other words marijuana still wouldn’t be on an equal footing with alcohol, but the initiative is still a big step in the right direction.

Unlike Initiative 300, the ballot initiatives in Pueblo would have been big steps in the wrong direction, had they passed. Fortunately, they didn’t.

In the City of Pueblo, Ballot Question 300 would have banned marijuana dispensaries and grows within City limits. It was crushed with almost 59 percent of the voters turning it down.

In Pueblo County, Ballot Issue 200 would have shut down more than 100 grows, 30 processing facilities and 10 dispensaries. Nearly 56 percent of the voters rejected it.

The victories are important because the initiatives represented the first serious attempt to roll back legal marijuana in a state that had voted for it.

It was also important because Pueblo County is one of the few places where legal marijuana is grown outdoors instead of exclusively under lights.

The initiative did attract some national media attention, including a piece on CBS’s Sixty Minutes that verged on reefer madness.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Jim Parco, a spokesman for pro-legalization organization Growing Pueblo’s Future, said, “We were the first to legalize, regulate and tax adult-use retail marijuana, and now, the first to decisively defeat prohibitionists in a do-over vote.”

He also announced plans to create a national marijuana museum in Pueblo.

More than 150 new marijuana-related businesses employing several thousand workers have been opened in the county since legalization. 

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