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So Tourists Can Indulge: Denver May Allow Pot In Bars And Restaurants


Imagine a city with hundreds of liquor stores but no bars to get a drink. That's sort of the situation with marijuana in Denver. Pot is legal in Colorado, but the capital city bans pot bars, the kinds of places you'd find in Amsterdam. This leaves tourists to flock to Denver to get high, without many legal places to do so. But Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports this could change.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: It's a busy Friday afternoon at LoDo Wellness, a recreational pot store downtown. And budtender Delaney Mason is talking up a marijuana strain called Space Queen.

DELANEY MASON: It's really cheesy is what I love about - how cheesy that bud is. It's like Parmesan cheese, yeah.

MARKUS: Parmesan-scented marijuana. There's a dizzying array of pot for all tastes. Anything a customer could want, except a place to use it if you don't have a home in Colorado. Mason has to inform tourists that there's no smoking in the store or on the street or in the parks or in most hotels.

MASON: So I tell them it's up to their discretion as to what they want to do with that information (laughter) basically. I can't tell anybody to break law. That would not be a very good employee (laughter).

MARKUS: So many tourists have turned to edible marijuana, which is more discrete. Nearly 5 million edibles were consumed in Colorado last year. But Tom Shoulders, who road-tripped here with a friend from California, wants to smoke it.

TOM SHOULDERS: I'd be polite about it, you know? I wouldn't be doing it, like, obnoxiously on this tourist street out front. But I'll just go around the corner or something. No one's going to care, dude.

MARKUS: Actually, the police department cares. They've handed out more than 1,000 public consumption citations just last year. This is not what pot advocates had in mind when they promoted legalized marijuana. So they collected signatures to put yet another measure on the ballot, this time allowing pot use at many bars and restaurants in Denver. Here's Mason Tvert, with the campaign, standing in front of city hall.

MASON TVERT: Our intention with pursuing this initiative was to reduce the likelihood that adults would consume marijuana publicly on the streets or in parks and instead consume it in private establishments.

MARKUS: But in an odd twist, Tvert was at city hall to pull his measure from the ballot because he says the city surprisingly came to his group looking for a negotiated solution.

TVERT: It's been too many years that it's been the people trying to pass these laws and the city resisting it. We were very excited to be able to work with the city together to create a policy that everyone agrees is the best step forward.

MARKUS: It was City Councilman Albus Brooks, with lots of nervous bar and restaurant owners in his district, who reached out to the marijuana advocates.

ALBUS BROOKS: Yeah, I represent all of downtown. And I had a pretty frank conversation with them.

MARKUS: But they got his attention, and now the city is working on crafting a pot club ordinance. Brooks wouldn't go into detail about what he envisions. And it's still not clear how the city will address concerns about stoned driving. Brooks sits on a bench in a park near his home, children playing on a nearby swing set. Adults are at picnic tables. The smell of marijuana is in the air. Kids, he says, shouldn't be exposed to this.

BROOKS: The ones playing in the playground right here are the ones I think about. And we are making - we're putting together legislation for their future, so it has to be thoughtful.

MARKUS: Which means it could take months, still leaving many with nowhere to use, like Nick Kissinger from Wisconsin. He left the LoDo Wellness pot shop confused as to what to do with this purchase.

NICK KISSINGER: To remain within the confines of the law, yeah, that's a problem. I guess you got to break the law. I mean, they should change that.

MARKUS: In the meantime, many visitors to Colorado looking to get high are in for a buzzkill. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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