Denver warns Colorado Symphony to snuff bring-your-own-pot series -- or face 'criminal penalties'

Symphony believes Space Gallery shows are legal

DENVER - Denver officials have dropped a big downer on the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's highly publicized, bring-your-own-pot concert series at Space Gallery.

In a letter delivered Thursday, the city warned the CSO its fundraising concerts risk violating state and city laws prohibiting public consumption of marijuana.

"We provide you with this letter to dissuade you from hosting the event; however, if you go forward, we will exercise any and all options available to the City of Denver to halt the event and hold the business owners, event organizers responsible for any violations of law. We are also ready to hold individual attendees responsible for any violations of City ordinances or state law prohibiting public consumption of marijuana," states the letter signed by Stacie Louks, director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.

Colorado became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use after state voters passed a ballot measure, Amendment 64, in 2012. Under the law, people 21 and older can use the drug in private, possess up to 1 ounce of pot and grow up to six marijuana plants.

The city's letter, however, reminds Colorado Symphony CEO/Co-Chair Jerome H. Kern that Amendment 64's "immunity from prosecution under state and local laws granted for adult possession and consumption does not extend to smoking 'openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.'"

Last week, the symphony made international headlines by advertising people could bring weed to "Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series," three fundraising concerts for the symphony sponsored by the state's burgeoning marijuana industry.

The series is scheduled for May 23, July 18 and Aug. 15 at the Space Gallery in the Santa Fe arts district. The CSO also plans a large, outdoor performance at city-owned Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13, but the symphony acknowledges that marijuana use is clearly illegal at that public venue.

When the Space Gallery series was announced, symphony spokeswoman Laura Bond said the CSO will "comply with all the laws" and that only the Space Gallery events would allow marijuana smoking.

"It's a private event, on private property," Bond told 7NEWS.

The owner of the Space Gallery said they plan to sell tickets to about 250 to 300 people.

"This is a logical next step since the voters of Colorado have chosen to regulate marijuana like alcohol," said event planner Jane West, adding that marijuana will be smoked on an outside patio with an 8-foot privacy fence.

But Loucks' letter states: "The City Attorney has advised us that a venue, like the Space Gallery, may be considered a public place under Colorado law. Thus, openly smoking or consuming edible marijuana at an event at the Space Gallery may well be a violation of State laws prohibiting public consumption of marijuana." Loucks also noted that her agency had consulted with the Denver Police Department.

The symphony's Kern responded with a statement saying, "As a responsible and civic-minded organization, the Colorado Symphony take the issues raised by the City of Denver very seriously. We’re reviewing the issues with our legal team. When the Colorado Symphony accepted support from the legal cannabis industry -- as a means of supporting our financial operations and connecting with a culturally diverse audience -- we believed we did so in full compliance with the law. We’re confident that any questions can be resolved quickly. We will issue a more detailed response after a thorough internal review."

The city's letter also cautions that the symphony could face a "criminal penalty" for allowing "unlawful smoking" in violation of the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.

Loucks reminded Kern that the symphony's contract with the city to use Boettcher Concert Hall "requires compliance with all laws, expressly including federal law. The consumption of marijuana is illegal under federal law and the promotion of public marijuana consumption at a Colorado Symphony event may constitute a breach of contract with the City."

The city letter said the CSO's "advertisements promoting public consumption of marijuana" could jeopardize the symphony's application for two special event permits from the city for the concert series.

The city's buzzkill legal warnings have marijuana advocates fuming.

"Don't they have anything better to do?" asked Rob Corry, an attorney who represents the marijuana industry. He said the city is going out of its way to put a kibosh on the cannabis centered event.

"You still have to buy a ticket. It is still a private event. And every adult that comes into the event consents to the purpose of that event," Corry said.

Denver City attorney Scott Martinez says the event could violate the law concerning public consumption of pot.

"Public means open to the public," Martinez said. "In a place where people can view other people, conducting, in this case the consumption of marijuana, which is prohibited."

"Is this an attempt to make any kind of political statement?" 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart asked Martinez.

"The statement that I hope this makes, is that we are regulating the way the State Constitution and the City Council envisioned when they passed these ordinances, saying the public consumption of marijuana is prohibited," Martinez said.

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