Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jun 2013
Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan (CO)
Copyright: 2013 The Fort Collins Coloradoan
Author: Robert Allen


Private marijuana use is legal, but police aren't ticketing public 
users because the definition of 'public' hasn't been clarified.

Six months after legalized marijuana became official in Colorado, the 
smoke hasn't quite cleared.

Definitions of "public" and "private" remain hazy, so police in Fort 
Collins aren't ticketing people who smoke weed in the open - even 
though the law's language forbids "publicly" consuming it.

"Everybody's in wait-and-see mode," said Lt. Mike Trombley with Fort 
Collins Police Services. "We're trying to do public education, asking 
people to be mindful of that and not smoke in public."

If an adult 21 or older is sitting on a City Park bench puffing a 
joint, and a cop notices, the most likely response is a request to 
politely extinguish the pot.

"Smoking in a city park is probably always going to be a public 
place," Trombley said, adding that, however, "we're still waiting" 
for a clear enforcement message.

The same applies to motor vehicles, so long as the driver isn't impaired.

"We're saying, 'It's not legal to smoke in a car. I'm not going to 
cite you today,' " Trombley said, and drivers are being warned that 
secondhand marijuana smoke can affect them.

The Legislature passed marijuana laws this year regarding impaired 
driving limits, putting a tax question to voters and regulating 
retail sales starting in 2014. But law enforcers haven't been given a 
clear message on the issue, and gray areas remain regarding public 
use and probable cause for searches.

As such, people who smoke on their front porches or apartment 
balconies - where smoke can easily waft into a neighbor's residence - 
aren't getting tickets. Denver lawyer Sean McAllister, one of the 
framers of Amendent 64's ballot language, said Fort Collins police 
are doing the right thing regarding public use.

"That is the way it should be handled before the rule is clarified," 
he said. "Denver still has a policy that smoking in public is 
illegal, and they continue to prosecute people even after Amendment 64 passed."

While the Department of Revenue is drafting preliminary rules for 
stores, McAllister said he doesn't expect specifics regarding use to 
come out of that. He said the issue is more likely to "percolate up" 
through court cases.

State legislators have said it's possible it will be settled through 
litigation or future legislation addressing still-unforeseen 
circumstances. Gov. John Hickenlooper previously said he's still 
waiting for word from the U.S. Department of Justice on how it will 
enforce federal marijuana law.

Meanwhile in Fort Collins, many people, including Trombley, say they 
haven't noticed a substantial increase in reports of public use since 
before Amendment 64.

"The call volume hasn't spiked by any means," Trombley said.

And while some people prefer to keep their use private, behind closed 
blinds in their homes, preferences vary.

"I've been burning the same, we've always just smoked on the back 
porch," said Daniel Williams on Facebook.

Alan Schenkel said in an email that high school kids used to park 
near his house near Taft Hill and Drake roads to smoke because it had 
a blind spot to other areas: "Now since the new law, they are gone! Hooray!"

People have occasionally been seen smoking in Old Town alleys, in 
their cars, at City Park and in backyards since well before voters 
approved the amendment in November 2012.

Similarly, people are frequently observed smoking in Colorado ski areas.

All pot forbidden on federal lands

The feds haven't sent a clear message about Colorado's and 
Washington's decisions to legalize marijuana in their states, but 
getting high on federal lands is as illegal as ever - and 22 of the 
state's roughly 26 ski areas use federal land, U.S. Forest Service 
spokesman Chris Strebig said.

Same goes for hikers, campers and anyone else once they set foot in 
areas such as Roosevelt National Forest or Rocky Mountain National 
Park in Larimer County.

"We want people to know that it's not allowed; it's against federal 
law," Strebig said, adding that this includes medical marijuana. 
"Every forest has law-enforcement patrol ... They're enforcing all 
laws including the use and possession of marijuana."

Much of the work of those patrols involves dealing with illegal 
vandalism, dumping and thefts such as illegal tree-cutting, but the 
pot laws do get actively enforced, he said.

For example, two citations for marijuana possession were issued 
earlier this year at Monarch Ski Area. Penalties range up to six 
months in jail with fines up to $5,000.

Federal lands make up 36 percent of Colorado land.

Smoking in hotels OK, if management doesn't mind

As talk of marijuana tourism grows with the opening of retail stores 
slated for January 2014, one business category with an undisputed 
right to allow pot smoking and possibly attract clientele for pot 
smoking is lodging.

"That's exciting," McAllister said, adding that there's not a "gray 
area" about it, and he knows people working to establish a network of 
pot-friendly hotels and rental homes, "in the mountains, particularly."

He said the Indoor Air Quality Act, in allowing hotels to designate 
up to 25 percent of rooms for smoking, fits with the rights of 
marijuana use outlined in Amendment 64.

In Fort Collins, several hotels don't allow smoking. The Hilton Fort 
Collins on Prospect Road has smoking rooms but does not allow marijuana use.

Trombley said police haven't received many complaints about marijuana 
in hotels and that the only time police would get involved is if the 
hotels were kicking out the occupants.

Regarding public pot use, Fort Collins police aren't the only local 
law enforcers taking the "wait-and-see" approach. The Larimer County 
Sheriff's Office also isn't going after people openly smoking pot.

"It isn't our intent to go out and target people for that," spokesman 
John Schulz said. "However, a citation would be issued, based upon 
the circumstances, at the deputy's discretion."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom