Can you smoke weed anywhere in Denver? First you'll have to ask your parents.
A remarkable thing is about to happen in Denver. For the first time in American history, pot smokers will be able to use cannabis in public legally. But there's a catch. First they have to ask mom and dad.
At least, that's how it felt at the first public meeting about the co-called social use of marijuana. Social use, which voters approved in November, says that the city can grant permits to places like yoga studios, coffee shops and art galleries for their patrons to vape the herb and have a good time. But they'll do so only if those places get the approval of a local neighborhood organization. These are well-established and well-intentioned do-gooder groups which exist not to party or smoke ganja, but to keep the streets free of garbage, the noise down to a minimum.
So generally, at the meeting, there were two different groups: cannabis-lovers and PTA presidents, weed growers and girl scout leaders. While there's increasing overlap between these two groups in Denver (where weed is less stigmatized than in any big city in America), there was still a very visible divide.
"It smells like pot in here," said one of the neighborhood association leaders, a grandmother who had probably never smoked pot in her life, who wore pearls and a shawl and looking exactly like your mom probably does. "Do you think they're smoking in the hallway?"
"I think it's on their clothes," said the woman's fellow neighborhood association member, a guy in slacks and a collared shirt. Right nearby them was a guy with hair down to his lumbar and pot leaf designs on his shoes.
So, much of the time, the discussion between the two groups was reminiscent of the times in high school when everyone had to try to convince their parents to let them throw a party. The cannabis folks said to the neighborhood folks, essentially: "We promise it won't smell that bad." "Let us try it one time." "If we're too loud, you can tell us to stop."
The rules will be very fluid. They aren't so much about creating permanent pot clubs where stoners sit around all day pulling tubes, the way it happens in Amsterdam. It's about letting select special events have customers vape discreetly while they, say, listen to poetry or a four-piece orchestra. "This will allow anyone to try something new, without opening a business or buying a space. I could rent out an art gallery for a night and have a concert," said Christian Sederberg, a Denver lawyer who often works on cannabis issues. "So long as you engage with the local community."
For example: Jim Norris is co-owner of the comic-book and pinball joint Mutiny Information Cafe located in the hip Baker neighborhood. On his neck, he has a tattoo. He’s stylish by today’s standards. Norris wants to be one of the first to get a permit. He wants to throw comedy shows that are vape friendly. But he needs the go ahead from the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association. Steve Harley, a member of the association, was at the meeting. On his neck, he had a scarf. As the meeting went on, the guy with the neck tattoo watched with interest as the guy in the scarf called the new rules "very very messy" and said "I think the neighborhood engagement part is half-baked, no pun intended."
If Denver is going to make history as the first city to allow cannabis in public, these two guys will have to work together. And they might be able to. In the end, Harley said, "I haven't seen a huge downside" — acknowledging he might be okay with granting a permit.
The social use rules, if nothing else, will foster community involvement and civic participation. And the pot heads and the PTA presidents will find a way to get along. Cannabis will, as it often does, bring people together. Even it's only to wildly disagree.
After the meeting broke up, a pro-pot guy in his 30s, in a stocking cap and a black jacket, engaged with the grandma in pearls and a shawl who said she'd probably never approve social use in her neighborhood. The pro-pot guy was telling her the parties won't smell bad, there are charcoal filters to keep the smell down. The woman wasn't having it.
"We had a marijuana processing place by us and it stunk up the whole neighborhood," she told him. The man was unfazed, and went on pleading his case. It wasn't a high schooler pleading to his mom to smoke pot in the basement, but that's what it sounded like: It'll be cool, he said, basically. We'll be respectful. Just let us try it this one time. I promise you won't get mad.