Denver backs off plan to make smoking pot on porches illegal

CREATED Dec. 4, 2013

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COLORADO –  Denver officials have backed off a controversial proposal that would have banned smoking marijuana on private property if it was in public view. 

The Denver City Council on Monday rejected an ordinance to prohibit marijuana use on front porches, in front yards, or anywhere on private property in public view, The Denver Post reported. 

Many localities in Colorado and Washington state are nevertheless in a race to avoid full-scale legalization by pushing through last-minute laws aimed at telling adults where they can and cannot smoke. 

In Colorado, legal pot sales start on Jan. 1. The Denver City Council is expected to take its final vote next week on the revised measure that allows people to smoke on their properties or with permission from the property owner, according to The Denver Post.  

Before the reversal, Councilwoman Jeanne Robb last week introduced an amendment that would prohibit marijuana consumption “in any outdoor location on private residential property” where it is “clearly observable from a public street, highway or sidewalk."

Going into Monday’s vote, the Denver Post reported at least six of the 13 city council members were leaning toward the rule. Another, Councilman Charlie Brown, was seen as a swing vote.

But the Council voted 7-6 Monday in favor of an amendment reversing Robb's language banning marijuana use on private property. 

Colorado, along with Washington state, in 2012 legalized the possession of up to one ounce of recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, despite it still being illegal under federal law.   

Advocates of a public ban, like Robb, believe seeing people light up would send the wrong message to children and teens and that it would paint the city in a negative smoky haze.

“We are being looked at nationally,” Robb told FoxNews.com. “It’s really a balance of the rights of those who consume marijuana and the localities where they live. The message is clear: do not be blatant. Be discreet. Not in our streets, not in our sidewalks.”

Opponents like Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, argue that at its core, the Robb amendment strips away the rights voted by residents of Colorado to consume cannabis.

“Questions on where adults should use marijuana is a valid question,” Tvert told FoxNews.com. “There are likely proposals that may or may not make sense. The one in Denver does not. Currently, it is entirely legal for adults to consume alcohol and cigarettes in public. It is irrational to make it illegal for marijuana smokers not to be able to do the same.”

While it may be legal to consume alcohol on a porch, or in the outdoor area of a bar, there are numerous laws across the country banning public drunkenness. And in most cities, it is illegal to carry an open container of alcohol outside your own property. Cigarette smokers, though, rarely encounter such regulations.

Denver Police Chief Robert White has said if the front porch rule is voted in, it will be among the city’s lowest priorities and says he doesn’t expect many – if any – citations will ever be written. 

On the heels of Colorado’s rollout will come Washington state -- the liquor control board there finalized its ruling in October of the marijuana industry, setting the stage for pot sales to start by 2014.

So far, there haven’t been any local efforts to stop the production, sales or use in that state but many in the area are likely to study the lessons and tactics used in the Denver fight.

Officials in Chicago are also getting a jump-start on creating strict regulations about where pot can be grown and dispensed. The city’s Department of Planning and Development has been working on legislation in anticipation of a state law taking effect that would make Illinois the 20th state in the country to allow medical marijuana use.

The Chicago measure must still be voted on and approved by the Chicago City Council. If approved, it would allow 22 centers where cannabis can be grown in the city. The same measure, though, would prohibit them from opening within 2,500 feet of any school, day care center or residential area.