Symphony warned: Cancel pot concert series, or else

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Published: May 8, 2014, 2:22 pm Comments (9)
By Jon Murray and Ray Mark Rinaldi, The Denver Post

Denver city officials on Thursday are delivering a major buzz kill to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

The CSO drew international attention last week when it announced plans for a trio of bring-your-own-marijuana performances starting May 23 at the Space Gallery in the Santa Fe arts district. The series is called “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series.”

In a letter hand-delivered Thursday, the city instructs: Call off the events, or risk violating state and city laws barring public pot smoking and consumption of edible marijuana.

The letter, prepared by city attorneys along with licensing and police officials, urges the CSO to cancel the concerts. But it doesn’t stop there.

Should the orchestra ignore the city’s instructions, the letter says: “We will exercise any and all options available to the City of Denver to halt the event.”

Addressed to CSO President Jerry Kern, it’s signed by Stacie Loucks, director of Denver’s Excise & Licenses Department. The letter was set to be delivered to CSO by 2 p.m.

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For the fundraising events on May 23, July 18 and Aug. 15, the CSO has partnered with lead sponsor Ideal 420 Soils and two dispensaries. Attendees are asked to donate $75 minimum to hear small ensembles of musicians, taste gourmet food, and drink wine and beer. The gallery plans to have a smoking lounge on its enclosed patio.

The event website says as part of a disclaimer: “Participant understands that attendees may use marijuana at this event, as is their right under Colorado law. Cannabis will not be sold at the event, however, and the price of the reservation is entirely unrelated to whether one chooses to use cannabis or not.” Attendees must be at last 21 years old.

The CSO also announced plans for large, outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13, but that venue bans cannabis consumption. The city’s letter doesn’t address the Red Rocks show.

City Attorney Scott Martinez told The Denver Post that his legal staff, in reviewing special event permits that are under consideration for the first two Space Gallery performances, raised red flags. The city can deny such permits if an event risks violating law.

The underlying reason is the same that nearly derailed this year’s 4/20 rally and festival in Civic Center: promotion of public consumption of marijuana. Ultimately, after asking the city to permit public smoking of pot, 4/20 organizers backed off and publicized that it was illegal under city code.

A difference in the CSO’s case is that its Space Gallery concerts are planned for a private venue.

The city’s letter, though, argues that the Space Gallery “may be considered a public place under Colorado law.” Officials also cite the voter-approved Amendment 64, which legalized pot possession and private consumption but didn’t permit public use; the state anti-smoking law; and the city ordinance that regulates retail marijuana licenses.

The city’s missive is adapted from a form letter it sends often to promoters of marijuana-related events, large and small, that city attorneys see as running afoul of marijuana laws. Martinez said most organizers call off the events.

Business owners, event organizers and attendees could be liable for any violations of law, the letter says.

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