The Mile High City is having a tough time living up to its
Denver is considering an ordinance that would impose
penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of $US999 for
openly using small amounts of marijuana in public places.
The ordinance notes that "openly" is defined as being
perceptible through sight or smell, so that a whiff of
secondhand smoke could put someone in jeopardy.
The ordinance is being proposed as Colorado is coming to
grips with how to deal with last fall's action by voters to
legalise the recreational use of marijuana. Colorado and
Washington became the first U.S. states to legalise the
possession and use of small amounts of pot for recreational
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Justice
Department has said the federal government will not target
users if they comply with Colorado and Washington state laws.
Colorado lawmakers have crafted statewide rules governing the
retail sale of pot, including licensing and taxation of
vendors. But the open use of marijuana is an area in which
some local governments can make rules.
"This proposed ordinance clearly communicates what our
residents and visitors are and are not allowed to do in
public," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said last week.
"It respects the will of the voters, who last year approved
Amendment 64, which allows people over 21 to have and consume
a small amount of marijuana. It also ensures that our public
spaces remain enjoyable for residents, families and
The ordinance would also specifically prohibit the
possession, use and sale of marijuana on the 16th Street
Mall, the well-trafficked pedestrian and transit street known
for its buskers.
The ordinance exempts medical marijuana and any pot purchased
from a store on the mall, if one opens when the marijuana
usage laws go into effect in January.
The ordinance is being opposed by the Colorado chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which calls it
"ill-advised, unnecessary and unconstitutional."
"Voters made it clear last year that law enforcement time and
resources should not be spent pursuing low-level marijuana
arrests," the group's legal director, Mark Silverstein, said
in a prepared statement.
"Two out of three Denver voters agreed that marijuana should
be legalised but regulated like alcohol," he said. "This
proposed ordinance does not regulate marijuana like alcohol:
No one risks a year in jail for drinking a beer in their
fenced backyard, yet this ordinance would make criminals once
again of persons who enjoy a legal joint on their back porch,
if anyone can see or smell from a public area or a nearby
"The proposed ordinance also violates the Colorado
Constitution by making it a crime to carry a legal product in
your pocket if you are walking on the 16th Street Mall.
"It's hard to read this proposal and not wonder what they've
been smoking up at City Hall."