City of Denver Urges Symphony to Cancel Marijuana Concerts

The private galleries where the ensemble had planned its concerts could be considered public places, officials say

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AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
Marijuana growing in Denver, Colorado.
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The Colorado Symphony Orchestra thought it was in compliance with Colorado's new laws regarding recreational marijuana use when it planned three concerts for a program called "Classical Cannabis: The High Note Series," sponsored by the state's marijuana industry. But now, the city is warning the ensemble to cancel the concerts, Los Angeles Times reports. The way the orchestra had planned to carry out the concerts  encouraging concertgoers to bring their own weed and smoke it on a private patio or art gallery space  may, in fact, violate city and state laws.

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"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," Stacie Loucks, director of the department of excise and licenses, wrote in a letter to the symphony's president, Jerome Kern. She also said that attendees would be held accountable for consuming marijuana in public.

The state constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana also banned its use in public places, the Times reported. Denver police arrested 92 people for consuming marijuana at a festival celebrating the drug in a park in April.

The symphony is now consulting with lawyers on the matter, but said it was confident it could quickly resolve the issues in the letter. "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," it said in a statement.

The city attorney's office said that though the symphony had planned on holding its concerts in private quarters, the gallery could be considered a public place under state law, as museums and theaters are considered such in regard to the state's discrimination laws. Also, a city law bans business outside of the marijuana industry to benefit from the consumption of marijuana, making it illegal for event organizers to sell pot at concerts, but legal to sell alcohol. The city said it could prosecute the gallery where the concerts were to take place for allowing unlawful smoking.

As a result of this, the symphony is now on notice with the city, as its contract to use Denver's Boettcher Concert Hall requires it to comply with all laws. Since marijuana is illegal on the federal level, it could constitute a breach of contract.

When the symphony announced the concerts in late April, one member of its volunteer guild, Judith Inman, had reservations about the new fundraising campaign. "I know that the symphony needs new sponsors, and they are trying to go after a younger group," she said. "I just don't think this is the way to go about it."

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