We’ve been covering the story of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and its “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” where patrons can bring their own marijuana and smoke it in an open-air patio secluded within a Denver gallery. The CSO proposed the concerts as a fundraiser, similar to how they perform “Beethoven and Brews” concerts to fundraise from beer aficionados, except that the beer drinkers don’t have to bring their own beer.

Almost as soon as the CSO posted the tickets online, there were howls of outrage. As the editor of the Denver Post put it, “Amendment 64 contains not one word hinting at a proliferation of commercial establishments open to the public where pot smoking would be encouraged.” That may be true, but Amendment 64 certainly didn’t ban them, either. The amendment only banned marijuana use “openly and publicly,” and CSO believed that adults purchasing tickets to enter a private gallery where adults would be smoking their own marijuana on a patio not visible to the public was neither “open” nor “public.”

When the city of Denver threatened the orchestra, it relented and took down the public ticket website and refunded the tickets already purchased by the public. We think CSO could have easily won in court over the definitions of “openly and publicly,” but why would CSO spend money in court to defend a fundraiser? The goal is to make money, so CSO compromised with Denver and made the event “VIP Invitation Only” to ensure there’s no way anyone could misconstrue the audience members as being part of the “public.”

The Denver Post’s editor warned of the terrible outcome if CSO had been allowed to sell tickets to the public. “If ‘The High Note Series’ had gone on as planned, it would have set a precedent,” wrote editor Vincent Carroll, “giving a green light to virtually any club, bar, concert or other gathering to allow open consumption of marijuana provided it sold tickets and confined pot use to an open-air area not visible from outside.”

But the event happened. CSO made up a list of people, invited them to a gallery, and played music for them while they were allowed to smoke pot. In what significant measure of harm did the “VIP Invitation Only” list differ from selling tickets to the public? The precedent set now for “virtually any club, bar, concert or other gathering” to allow open-air pot smoking is to have people join a VIP list and wait for the invitations.  

In the time it has taken me to type this, some Colorado bar owner is figuring out he can allow VIP-only pot smoking on his back patio and post a bouncer at the entrance to check for a VIP card for which he charges patrons $10/month. Congratulations, CSO, for establishing that VIP entrance to a private pot-smoking patio is neither “openly” nor “publicly” smoking pot.

"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.