Denver NORML Announces Marijuana Lounge Initiative


This past Friday, Denver NORML announced a new effort to enact a municipal voter initiative this year in Denver to legalize the social use of marijuana in certain venues within the city. The initiative will be known as “Responsible Use Denver,” and will seek to legalize private marijuana clubs for those 21 and up, as well as protect businesses that permit responsible adult marijuana use.

There are a number of important fixes needed to the initial legalization laws, but none impact more smokers than the current ban on marijuana smoking outside a private home.

Alaska officials are discussing the possibility of allowing marijuana smoking at some licensed marijuana retailers, and the DC City Council recently approved private marijuana clubs, and then reversed themselves in a second vote a few minutes later. So far, none of the legalization jurisdictions permit smoking outside a private home.

During 2015, an effort to license certain bars in Denver, CO, to permit marijuana smoking in areas where tobacco smoking is permitted, was circulated as a municipal voter initiative, before being withdrawn by the sponsors only a day before it was to be certified for the ballot. No public explanation was ever provided for the strange turn of events.

Denver NORML said their goal is to pick up where others left off in 2015. “We greatly appreciate the previous attempt to bring this issue to Denver voters, but we want to get this done,” said Jordan Person, executive director of Denver NORML.

Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and there is absolutely no valid reason to deny marijuana smokers the right to congregate and enjoy their favorite herb in a social setting. We should not be limited only to smoking in our homes.

In Colorado, a state which counts tourism as among its major industries, the level of tourism since marijuana was legalized has continued to grow, and 49% of those tourists say the right to smoke marijuana legally was one of the reasons they chose to travel to Colorado on vacation. Yet, the large majority of those marijuana tourists (with the exception of a small number who manage to stay at a marijuana friendly hotel or bed and breakfast), have no legal place to smoke the marijuana they legally buy.

That is a situation that cannot continue, and cries out for some common sense relief. Marijuana smokers need places they can congregate socially where, if they wish, they can also smoke marijuana. Either we legalize and regulate those smoking venues, or black-market “smokeasies” will continue to surface.

“NORML wants to bring Denver closer to the goal of treating marijuana like alcohol, as the voters overwhelmingly approved when Amendment 64 was passed in 2012,” Person said.

These could be Amsterdam-style coffee shops, where marijuana and food is available, but no alcohol; they could be smoking areas in existing bars that do sell alcohol; or they could be private clubs, where members pay a modest fee to enter. It would be instructive if different jurisdictions tried different models, providing us some guidance as we move forward.

And NORML is the right organization to push for this change. We represent the interests of marijuana smokers, and it is our obligation to bring the marijuana smoking culture above ground, and out of the closet; and nothing will accomplish that goal more effectively than the establishment of legal marijuana smoking areas in states that have legalized marijuana.

“We are coming from the perspective of the consumer and not as industry business owners or representatives,” Person said, “but of course we will work with a broad-based coalition of consumers, industry groups and business to gather the needed signatures and to ensure passage.”

It’s time we consumers get-up, stand-up, light-up and demand this right; we should not permit the prohibitionists to limit our smoking only to private homes.

About Author

Keith Stroup is a Washington, DC public-interest attorney who founded NORML in 1970. Stroup first smoked marijuana when he was a first-year law student in 1965 and has been a regular smoker and a cannabis activist ever since. In 1992 Stroup was the recipient of the Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform presented by the Drug Policy Foundation; in 2010 he received the Al Horn Award from the NORML Legal Committee for a lifetime of work advancing the cause of justice; and in 2012, Stroup received the High Times Lifetime Achievement Award. Keith currently serves as NORML's Legal Counsel and on NORML's Board of Directors. He resides in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife.


  1. Rod is on the Gas on

    Well said Keith.

    Your outline of how a civil society should act is time-tested. We’ve been splintered into torn fabrics of our previous selves. Humans communicate every moment when allowed. Cannabis is worthy of our respect as an enabler of higher levels of understanding, our world.

    Conversations, questions & answers, feeling the high, all lead to improvements that can only be replicated within a social environment. Which church is best?

  2. Keith – As one of the individuals who helped coordinate the 2015 Social Use effort, I take objection to your suggestion that no public explanation was ever given for the withdrawal of that initiative. Not only did we hold a news conference and answer questions from the media about the withdrawal, we also posted the following on the campaign’s GoFundMe page, the web site, and, I believe, the campaign’s Facebook page.

    Friends –

    Just two months ago, the Campaign for Limited Social Cannabis Use launched a petition drive to qualify an initiative for the November ballot in Denver. The goal of the campaign was to change the laws in the city so that cannabis consumers could congregate and enjoy cannabis socially, just as alcohol consumers do freely. Those of us associated with the campaign were frustrated that this issue was not being addressed by city leaders and wanted to push the issue forward.

    Now, thanks to the generosity of GoFundMe contributors and the hard work of others to gather signatures from Denver voters, we have succeeded. The issue is on the collective radar of both city officials and Denver business leaders. Campaign proponents have had more productive conversations with city leaders about social use in the last two weeks than in the previous 18 months combined!

    This leads us to what many may consider at first blush to be unusual news: The campaign is formally withdrawing the ballot initiative.

    This is not a decision that was made lightly. As we have noted in the past, this campaign was driven by the same spirit and passion that drove SAFER’s successful legalization initiative in Denver in 2005, the MPP-backed Amendment 64 campaign in 2012, and Sensible Colorado’s efforts to expand the medical marijuana system in all the years in between. There is certainly no fear, as far as campaign leaders are concerned, in pushing the envelope and taking matters to the voters.

    But conversations with major stakeholders in the city convinced campaign leaders that there is a sincere desire on the part of these city leaders to address this issue in a collaborative manner. And these are not just closed-door assurances. As seen in the Denver Post, city officials and prominent business groups have expressed publicly their commitment to finding a workable solution to this issue. Based on this show of good faith, campaign leaders were willing to forego a contentious ballot initiative fight in order to give the collaborative process a shot. We are optimistic about these discussions, but also know that we can return to the ballot in November 2016 — when the electorate will be far more favorable to our cause — if they do not result in an acceptable outcome.

    For those of you who may be disappointed by this news, we hope that you appreciate the progress that has been made here. This discussion needed to be advanced and we would not be where we are today if we had not invested the time, energy, and resources in qualifying the initiative for the ballot.

    This is not the end of a campaign; it is a transition from a ballot initiative process to a lobbying effort. We are grateful to everyone who contributed to this campaign so that we could reach this point. We are far closer to social cannabis use in Denver today than we were two months ago.

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