KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Colorado legalized recreational marijuana three years ago, which means it's OK to buy it, sell it and use it. But it's still illegal to smoke it in public. That changes this summer when pot cafes are set to open. Ben Markus from Colorado Public Radio reports.
BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: A blinking open sign hangs on the outside of an old building in a dark industrial zone just outside Denver city limits. When the front door opens, smoke billows out. Inside is one of the state's few pot clubs called iBake. And recently, members celebrated the anniversary of its opening.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Happy birthday to you.
MARKUS: Glassy-eyed patrons bounce off each other in a small space. People can smoke pot in here because the club is private. You have to be a member. And it's outside city limits away from city police. Not the easiest way to make money, but Steve Nelson Jr. started iBake to fill a need.
STEVE NELSON JR: It's recreation, so it's to have fun. It's to relax. It's to lounge. You don't necessarily want to do that just by yourself.
MARKUS: But that's exactly how many tourists end up using it, guys like Alberto Aviles visiting from New York. He had no problem finding a place to buy pot at one of Denver's 150 stores. But aside from iBake, he couldn't find anywhere to use it.
ALBERTO AVILES: Even in the hotels like the Ramada Inn - they gave me a problem, you know? Tried to kick me out, yeah, just off the smell.
MARKUS: Hotel owners probably aren't the only ones happy to see that lawmakers are close to permitting a mix of private and public communal places to use pot, something akin to what you'd find in Amsterdam. Vicki Marble is a Republican state senator. She says that's better than cops handing out tickets to tourists using in parks or on sidewalks.
VICKI MARBLE: We do not want people coming on vacation and leaving on probation.
MARKUS: Colorado Republicans have brushed off concerns from the Trump administration about the spread of recreational marijuana, and they're throwing their weight behind a bipartisan bill at the state legislature that would officially allow private marijuana clubs. But people would still have to BYOP - bring their own pot.
KAYVAN KHALATBARI: It's not ideal for consumers, but it is a step in the right direction.
MARKUS: That's Kayvan Khalatbari, a marijuana businessman and an advocate for public pot consumption. Seven other states have legal recreational cannabis, but only Nevada is as close to allowing public pot use.
KHALATBARI: It's not only something that, obviously, Colorado is dealing with but every single state that's legalizing recreational cannabis. This will be a conundrum that gets recreated.
MARKUS: One conundrum is around smoking. Colorado, like many states, doesn't allow indoor smoking in public places. But Khalatbari says half of Colorado's pot sales are for the type of marijuana you have to smoke. Many people prefer that.
KHALATBARI: I don't like edibles. I don't like the way they make me feel. I don't feel that vaporization gives me the sensation that I'm looking for.
RACHEL O'BRYAN: Yes, I'm happy to be the bad guy who rains on the parade.
MARKUS: Rachel O'Bryan has long fought against the expansion of marijuana. She says no filtration system can remove all the second-hand smoke from a room. And Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said he'd veto the state's pot club bill if it continues to allow for indoor smoking. So think outdoor patios, rooftop bars.
But O'Bryan's concerns go beyond that. She's worried that some proposals would allow any type of business to permit marijuana use like yoga studios or laundromats.
O'BRYAN: You know, the encouragement of anything whether it's alcohol or marijuana while you're going about your daily business of, you know, doing laundry is that a good direction for society to take? And my guess is not.
MARKUS: She laments that, again, Colorado is at the forefront of a big social experiment. What, she wonders, will be the effect on drugged driving or addiction? No one knows for sure. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver.
(SOUNDBITE OF LATIN BITMAN SONG, "INSTRUMENTO")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.