EDITORIAL: Where there’s pot smoke, there’s a neighborhood fire that needs to be prevented

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The days of simply being able to smoke ‘em, anywhere, if you got ‘em are long gone, and smoking pot at home may be going the same way.

An Associated Press story this week posted on AuroraSentinel.com explores how some local homeowner associations are handling the integration of legal, recreational or medical marijuana into the real world.

For the most part, Aurora officials say legal marijuana use by adults has caused little fuss. But as city pot shops open this fall and marijuana consumption normalizes, expect friction between homeowner groups, neighbors and consumers to heat up.

Aurora Sentinel BadgeThe AP story says that there’s already an increase in the number of HOAs that have banned or regulated the use of marijuana. State law permits the legal consumption of pot, but it also allows cities and HOAs to ban it when it intrudes on others. That intrusion so far has predominately come in the form of one neighbor smelling the pot smoke of another and not liking it.

That’s not a place for HOAs to intervene. This, just like cigarette smoke, loud music, drying fish or building bird houses in the middle of the night, is already covered by city and state nuisance laws: disturbing the peace.

The issue is more clear cut in neighborhoods with only single-family homes. If you can’t see it, hear it or smell it, it’s none of your business, and it’s no business of an HOA.

Where this is going to get dicey in Aurora is in apartment, condo and townhouse complexes. Homeowner associations governing these communities can and should regulate drunken behavior in common areas, but they can’t and shouldn’t restrict residents from consuming legal alcoholic beverages.

Smoking is a thornier issue. Because the way many multi-family homes are constructed, cigarette or pot smoke in one unit easily makes its way into neighbors’ homes. Whether the smoke comes from Marlboros, Yellow Diesel marijuana or blackened tilapia, if it’s intrusive in your private space, it’s a nuisance. Police should be able to write disturbing the peace charges against neighbors who refuse to stop the offending behavior. Then, it’s up to the courts to decide what’s just and fair in the case.

If Aurora HOAs are interested in heading these issues off before they start, they should set aside outdoor places and create rules for smoking cigarettes, pipes, cigars or marijuana. Pot consumers have to be realistic that neighbors who can and don’t want to smell pot smoke in their own apartments or condo units have every right to make consumers stop smoking it. It may mean using marijuana in apartments in a way that doesn’t intrude on neighbors, or buying devices that prevent pot or cigarette smoke from bothering neighbors. If puffing up a storm unrestricted is a priority, it may mean buying a single-family home or a residence with exhausts that effectively keep what you do in your own condo your own secret.

But rather than wait for all of this to clog courts and prompt neighborhood friction, city lawmakers should work with Aurora HOAs to head off problems through education and planning.