The Denver City Council on Monday made a surprise move, reversing an earlier decision that would have banned smoking marijuana on private property if it was in public view.
If the bill passes on a final vote next week, Denver residents will be able to smoke on their front yards, front porches or anywhere on their properties, regardless of whether it visible from the street, sidewalk or anywhere else.
It is doubtful the vote will change again. But no one can be sure.
“This has been like a ping-pong game,” said Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who on Monday offered the amendment that scrubbed the previous version of the bill approved last week after more than three hours of discussion and a public hearing.
Shepherd’s reversal amendment was supported by seven members of the 13-member council.
Shepherd said the law banning front-yard smoking was against the will of the people, infringed on private property rights and was unfair to people depending on the type of property they own.
“It will lead to people snitching on their neighbors,” she said.
Councilman Albus Brooks, who supported the front-yard ban a week before, changed his vote on Monday.
He said over the Thanksgiving break he received a number of phone calls from city leaders, urging him to switch and thought about the implications of police having to enforce the law.
“Their concerns were about private property rights and overpolicing in some of our neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s a tough issue.
“Fear sometimes causes us to protect and doesn’t allow our city to grow.”
The council has been wrestling with this issue for several weeks, beginning with a bill drafted by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilman Chris Nevitt that would have put severe restrictions on outdoor smoking on private properties. That version would have banned smoking in backyards if it could be smelled by neighbors.
The council came back with another version that is basically the same bill heading for a final vote next week. It allows people to smoke on their properties or with permission from the owner.
Councilwoman Jeanne Robb last week introduced the controversial “front-yard amendment” that would have banned the activity on private property if it could be viewed from a sidewalk or street.
Denver Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell said it would be a legally sound law.
Robb’s amendment narrowly passed last week and was booed by some marijuana advocates. Denver Police Chief Robert White said it would be difficult to enforce and would be the department’s lowest priority.
Council members who voted for the new amendment were Mary Beth Susman, Charlie Brown, Paul Lopez, Robin Kniech, Brooks, Nevitt and Shepherd.
Councilwoman Debbie Ortega will offer a new proposal that would ban smoking anywhere within 1,000 feet of a school. On Monday, she admitted pushing for more restrictive laws to guard against social problems that may develop.
“I believe that it is our responsibility to be more restrictive and then we can come back and look at where we need to make changes,” Ortega said. “It will be far easier to loosen things than taking those flood gates and try to close them sometime later.”
Sandra Hagen Solin, who is part of Smart Colorado, which has been pushing for marijuana laws that are safe for children, said she was disappointed.
“We’re concerned the vote changed because of concerns around enforceability, which begs the question about the overall enforcement of the program,” she said. “Sadly, it appears that at this point the city council is siding with the marijuana interests over the community’s interests.”