Even in states where marijuana is legal for recreational consumption, law enforcement agencies are still using bizarre interpretations of the law to bust people for pot-related offenses. In Denver, Colorado, which is often considered the Mecca of fully legal weed, police recently conducted an undercover sting operation against a couple of cannabis party busses where they claim employees and passengers were engaging in illegal activity. In the end, more than 30 people riding with Colorado Cannabis Tours and My 420 Tours were cited for violating public consumption codes and the Clean Air Act, while one driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
But city officials say they are just enforcing the law. Although cannabis party buses have been allowed to operate in Denver, all of which have included marijuana consumption, the city’s policy with respect to these types of charters, according to Denver’s Excise and Licensing Department, does not allow any cannabis consumption. The department argues that while the voters did approve a measure in 2016 that gives businesses the opportunity to apply for permits to allow on-site consumption, nothing in that initiative has paved the way for bus tours to allow consumption. So far, only one Denver business has been issued a social consumption permit.
“There is limited availability for public consumption in Denver. That does not include publicly using marijuana on a tour bus,” Eric Escudero, an excise spokesperson, told NBC-affiliate 9 News. Furthermore, the city gave the two bus tour companies plenty of opportunities to tighten up their operations before shaking them down, Escudero explained.
“We saw a business that was operating unlawfully. We talked with them… and we even sent them letters. We wanted to make sure that they understood that what they were doing was unlawful, and if they continued it, there would be enforcement actions.”
But the two bus tour companies say they do not believe they were doing anything wrong. The claim there was no violation to the city’s public consumption rule because all passengers were in a confined space.
“The rule pertaining to public consumption is that it must be open and public,” said Danny Schaefer, CEO of My 420 Tours. “So ‘open,’ in my opinion, means no intention to hide the consumption, then ‘public,’ meaning its accessible to the public and seen by the public.”
Back in April, attorneys with Colorado Cannabis Tours responded to the excise warning, according to Colorado Cannabis Tours founder Michael Eymer.
“Our attorney sent Excise and Licensing a detailed letter in April which explained the legal justification for us operating and requested to meet with the city if they disagreed,” he said. “Instead of meeting with our attorneys as we requested, they decided to needlessly issue citations to innocent customers. This could all have been avoided if the city had simply met with our attorneys as we requested.”
Just last week the Denver Post published an article about cannabis bus tours, which featured comments from tour guide Alyse Morgan with My 420 Tours. In the piece, Morgan is quoted as saying, “If you couldn’t tell by all the accessories, the rolling trays, the ashtrays… you guys can smoke on here.”
The only stipulation to this activity, according to the article, is that bus companies cannot sell pot products to party patrons. It’s a BYOW situation. The bus tour simply provides transportation to area cultivation centers and dispensaries, allowing the people to enjoy their purchases along the way.
But law enforcement has a different interpretation of the rule.
A report from the Denverite says two undercover police officers climbed onboard a tour bus owed by Colorado Cannabis Tours, signed all the necessary paperwork for the ride and waited for the appropriate moment to initiate what Eymer says was a “forcible” crackdown.
“They were forcible with the guides — forcibly removed them from the bus — two young girls, held their hands behind their back like criminals,” he said. “Honestly, it was very heavy handed — and it was meant to send a message.”
The Denver Police Department, which claimed the bust was “complaint-driven,” says the only message the city is trying to send is that this type of activity is illegal – and it has been that way since the dawn of legalization. “Our policy is to enforce the laws that are currently in place,” Jay Casillas, a spokesperson with the DP, told the news source. “Consuming marijuana in public is illegal and that is why officers cited the people consuming marijuana illegally.”
But there does appear to be an exception to the rule. According to Colorado.gov, it is perfectly legal for limousine passengers to consume marijuana in the rear of the vehicle. The website says, “it is illegal for drivers and front-seat passengers to use marijuana in vehicles designated for private, for-hire transportation in Denver. If the private, for-hire transportation operator allows for it, marijuana may be consumed in the rear passenger area only.”
This means cannabis bus tours in operation for a private event, such as a bachelor party, can allow cannabis consumption. But if it is a situation where the public is allowed to ride from one destination to another — that is not permitted. “If a law enforcement facility or someone on the public says, ‘I want to go smoke marijuana [on the bus]’ and you accept some kind of payment for them to do that, that’s public,” Escudero explained.
Whether a cannabis tour bus is operating for public or private will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Escudero admits.
“This isn’t the wild west of marijuana,” he said. “Anyone who thinks it is, is incorrect. We want to make sure and successfully regulate this so businesses can be successful in a business-friendly environment. And we want to make sure it’s a safe market for Denver, for businesses and visitors, and we want to make sure to handle needs and desires of our public.”
Both cannabis tour bus companies say they plan to fight the citations and will try to repair relations with the city.
TELL US, would you take a ride on a cannabis party bus?