Published December 20, 2015
After a string of pot giveaways and public smoking following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is trying to crack down on where people can light up.
Under an ordinance discussed by Denver's City Council on Monday, possessing, smoking or giving away marijuana would be illegal in city parks, the downtown pedestrian mall, mountain parks, including Red Rocks amphitheater, as well as cars on public streets.
If you're smoking in your yard but your neighbors can smell the smoke, you could also be found to be in violation and face up to a year in jail and a $999 fine.
The proposal comes less than three months before Denver and a handful of cities prepare to allow pot shops to open under Amendment 64. Passed by voters last fall, it allows adults 21 and older to possess and consume small amounts of pot though public use is banned. It also gives cities the right to ban recreational marijuana sales, as most in the state have done.
In a statement, Hancock said he is following through on a promise to implement the amendment in a responsible way and said the proposal respects the will of the voters while also making public spaces enjoyable for residents, families and tourists.
However, those who helped pass the amendment and the American Civil Liberties Union say it violates Amendment 64.
"It is not a question of whether the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional. Rather, it is a question of how much the city will have to spend on legal bills before the ordinance is overturned," said Brian Vicente, a Denver lawyer who helped lead the Amendment 64 campaign.
ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein said the ordinance is unconstitutional, in part because it would make it illegal for people to simply to possess marijuana in certain places, such as the 16th Street Mall, even though Amendment 64 allows it.
In a nod to the reality that pot shops are about to become legal, there's an exception in the law for people who have pot that they just purchased at a shop along the mall.
The proposal could also cause problems at the annual pro-marijuana celebrations in Civic Center Park near the state Capitol each April 20. Even before Amendment 64 passed, police would generally stand by and watch people in the crowd smoking pot on what has become an unofficial pot holiday.
A fact sheet on the proposal says the event would still be allowed to take place but that participants will be expected to follow park rules.
Hancock's spokeswoman, Amber Miller, said the proposal wasn't aimed at the 4/20 rally and that police officers would continue to use their discretion about whether to ticket people for smoking there and elsewhere.
"It really is about protecting our families and our children in these public spaces," she said of the proposal.