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The Long Strange Trip Of Denver’s Pot Law

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Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Regulating recreational marijuana is a new experience for every lawmaker in Colorado. It’s not simple and there really isn’t a reliable blueprint to follow. Therefore each community is facing unique struggles as it attempts to strike the balance between the will of the voters and the safety of the community.

This is what the Denver City Council has been wrestling with over the last few weeks, with a major development coming into focus just this week.

But to realize just how important this development is, we need to understand how this long strange trip started.

Councilman Chris Nevitt proposed a bill several weeks ago that all but returned recreational marijuana to its former illegal status. The first version of the bill prohibited the smoking of pot outside of a home, including backyards if it could be smelled over the fence. The original bill also prohibited the possession of pot in any Denver park or the 16th Street Mall.

Essentially, the first version showed the bill writers were okay with the purchase of marijuana in stores, but after that, they didn’t want it carried, smoked or used anywhere that could be seen or smelled by someone else.

None of Councilman Nevitt’s colleagues were quick to support the first bill. Despite support from Mayor Michael Hancock, the bill was derided by critics and found little support.

Denver City Council

Denver City Council (credit: CBS)

Knowing that some sort of regulation was needed, the City Council went back to work on the proposal. While much of draconian regulation from the original bill was struck down, some controversial elements remained.

Backyard pot use was in the clear, but front porches were now verboten. This compromise seemed to be moving forward, despite outcry from opponents during public comments.

However, an interesting thing happened on the way to the next vote to approve the bill. A little bit of democracy happened.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, various city leaders reached out to Councilman Albus Brooks and convinced him to switch his vote on the front porch issue. Thanks to his switch, a new amended version of the bill now allows for front porch use of pot, even if it can be seen or smelled.

While marijuana opponents may consider this change a setback, the reality is that the amended policy is far closer to what voters approved, overwhelmingly in Denver.

And even though the bill still is not perfect, few bills are, it represents an effort from the Denver City Council to thoughtfully look at the issue and consider public comments, city leaders and other voices when crafting important legislation.

Other communities can take a lesson from this experience, maybe not based on the actual bill, but more about the approach to listen to as many voices as possible and be open to change the original idea.

Too many communities have leaders that are basing the idea of how to regulate pot on antiquated or considerably biased opinions and not remaining truly open to the will of the people.

Again, democracy is never perfect, and rarely pretty. But the Denver City Council’s trip into pot regulation can serve as an important life lesson for other cities. It may feel weird to experiment with public comments and opinions, but it may just lead to an enlightened point of view, or possibly a case of the munchies.

Dominic Dezzutti’s Latest Blog Entries

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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