Starting in 2021, it will no longer be illegal to own a pit bull dog within the city of Denver, after voters passed ballot measure 2J by a comfortable margin. As of Wednesday morning, more than 64 percent of voters had approved the measure.

Breed-specific legislation has remained an emotionally fraught issue in Denver since the city introduced a law banning pit bulls in 1989 following a string of high-profile attacks by such dogs. The passage of 2J means a strict ban on bully breeds will be replaced with a “breed-restricted license” system through Denver Animal Protection at the start of the new year.

Under the new system, Denverites who own a pit bull will now be required to apply for a license for their dog. If the dog has no behavioral incidents in three years, the license will be dropped and the owners can then register their pit bull with the city.

The issue made its way to Denver ballots after a dramatic turn of events earlier in the year. In February, the Denver City Council voted to pass a similar proposal, but Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed it, saying, “At the end of the day, I must ask whether passage of this ordinance would make our homes and neighborhoods safer or pose an increased risk to public safety. I have concluded that it would pose an increased risk.” The Council then attempted and failed to overturn the veto.

Denver was one of an estimated 700 cities across the U.S. with similar breed-specific legislation. Now, it joins the ranks of municipalities walking back these outright bans, including Castle Rock, which repealed its ban in 2018 and moved to a similar behavior-based, non-breed-specific law.

Proponents of the measure felt that more objective, behavior-based criteria was needed to determine whether an animal is dangerous, instead of focusing on misconceptions about one particular breed (the term “pit bull” technically accounts for American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or a mix of any of these breeds). Opponents, on the other hand, argued that the city hasn’t seen a fatal pit bull attack since the ban was enacted. With the new rules in place, advocates across the city are hopeful that the system will encourage responsible pet ownership and allow pit bull owners who already live in the city to seek the help they possibly need—be it veterinary care or behavioral training—without fear of losing their dog.

Shira Naomi from Replace Denver BSL said the organization is waiting to declare victory until the final results are in. But in advance, she told 5280: “In this time when fear so often subsumes facts, and politics subjugates science, we’re grateful that so many thousands of Denverites have chosen to trust the best studies and most educated officials by voting for 2J.”

(MORE: All the results from Colorado’s 2020 election)

Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill
Madi Skahill is 5280’s former associate digital editor.