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Denver voters could find two new cannabis-use initiatives on the ballot this November. Although the initiatives seem very similar at first glance, there are noteworthy differences between them, and even some contestation as to which initiative would be more beneficial to Colorado’s cannabis consumers.

Private Cannabis Clubs

NORML’s Denver chapter is currently collecting signatures for a municipal initiative that would allow private, licensed cannabis clubs to operate in the city. Known as the “Responsible Use Denver Initiative,” it covers stand-alone venues as well as special events where adults over 21 could enjoy marijuana legally.

However, these cannabis clubs would not be allowed to sell or distribute cannabis – requiring people to bring their own products to the venue – and, if passed, the law would prevents bars, restaurants, and night-clubs from running cannabis clubs from their premises.

Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML, supports sensible regulation that would allow cannabis enthusiasts to enjoy their favorite plant in a social, public setting. “Denver residents and visitors alike need places other than private homes to legally and responsibly enjoy legal marijuana with other adults,” she said in a press release at NORML’s blog. “The city will be able to license and regulate private marijuana clubs and special events to ensure public health and safety […] But we want to be sure that the regulations are reasonable and consumer-friendly.”

Public Consumption Areas

Another group – led by the Marijuana Policy Project, local business owners, and the Vincente Sederberg law firm – is backing a similar proposal for public use. The “Neighborhood Approved Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program” would allow any business (including bars and restaurants) to obtain a permit for a designated cannabis consumption area for adults over 21.

Businesses would need to obtain support from neighborhood organizations first, which would regulate how consumption areas are operated. Permits could allow cannabis consumption for certain hours, certain days, once-a-month, and so on – as negotiated by the business owners and community groups. They would also require only vaping indoors, with combustion done in an outdoors area out of the public eye. Like the Responsible Use initiative, consumers would have to supply their own cannabis products.

Furthermore, businesses would have to obtain permits annually, or on a short-term basis. The initiative is considered a pilot program, as consumption areas would only be allowed for four years, unless the city council amends the program or makes it permanent by 2020. This would allow the program to evolve and adapt to community needs.

Kayvan Khalatbari, cannabis businessman and primary sponsor for the initiative, argues that private cannabis clubs isolate cannabis users, rather than integrate them into communities. “Segregating cannabis consumers is an extension of prohibition and entirely unacceptable with how much progress this movement has made,” says Khalatbari. Private clubs, the group argues, further stigmatize cannabis consumption as something “underground,” and create an “opium den” setting for tourists.

He also indicated that their proposal offers a more sustainable business model. Private clubs that can’t provide food, drinks, or entertainment “have no way of generating revenue for business owners outside of memberships or door fees.”

The group met with the Denver city council this week to discuss legality issues and the potential for overlapping business districts or neighborhood groups to conflict with each other regarding support for consumption areas. They hope to have the finalized and certified ballot petition ready soon, and to be collecting signatures as soon as this weekend.

Conflicting Initiatives?

Both petitions need to submit roughly 4,800 signatures from registered Denver voters by mid-August in order for the initiatives to appear on the November ballot. Responsible Use is apparently already half-way to their goal, and have been collecting signatures for two months.

Khalatbari hopes to persuade Denver NORML to drop their initiative, but Person has said that it would be “ridiculous” to “withdraw when we’ve made it so far.”

At this stage, it’s still unclear what would happen if both initiatives were approved by voters. Some speculate that the initiative with the most votes would win out, but others think both may take effect.

What do you think MassRoots readers? Which initiative would you prefer in your city, or do you think both initiatives could work together? We’d like to hear what you think, so comment below!

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