Pitkin County commissioners want the public to know that it is still illegal to smoke pot in public areas around the 2013 Winter X Games, despite state voters passing an amendment permitting marijuana use last year.
The public service announcement was delivered in a meeting on Wednesday as commissioners reviewed an ordinance that will outlaw alcohol consumption on public property during this year’s X Games. In its 12th year in Aspen, the extreme sporting event hosted by ESPN will be held at Buttermilk on Jan. 24-27 and feature a range of competitions where skiers, snowboarders and snowmobile riders perform big tricks for medals.
Each year before the X Games, the county enacts the ordinance — which prohibits open drinking on all unlicensed public premises in the county, including the Brush Creek intercept lot — in an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents inside the venue. Officials decided in 2008 to restrict alcohol consumption outside the X Games and fine people $250 who have open containers in public areas. Booze is not served inside the X Games venue.
Although security inside the venue does a good job making sure people don’t enter with booze, law enforcement officials sometimes see problems arise from intoxicated individuals outside the Buttermilk venue, on buses and in the parking lots on the way to the event, said County Attorney John Ely. The ordinance is brought before the commissioners annually as an ongoing reminder that the restriction is in place, Ely said. It has been effective at reducing the number of incidents and few people each year are fined for violating it, he said.
“Over the years, [the restriction] does not seem to have dampened the enjoyment of the X Games,” Ely said.
In light of the ban’s success, Commissioner Michael Owsley raised the question of whether the county should outlaw marijuana use in the ordinance as well. Last November, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, which legalizes the recreational use of marijuana for adults over 21.
Ely noted that the amendment does not allow people to toke up in public, so it’s plainly illegal to do so at the X Games or on other public property, he said. Law enforcement also hasn’t indicated the need to expand the ordinance to address marijuana, he added.
“Alcohol being prohibited doesn’t mean that you’re free to — you know — smoke marijuana,” Ely said.
Owsley acknowledged the fact, but argued that the legality of smoking pot is confusing and could lead to problems. Commissioner Rob Ittner agreed with Owsley and said that visitors from out of state who are attending the X Games might not know or understand the law, he said. Ittner recommended that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority or ESPN undertake an educational campaign to inform visitors that it’s against the law to toke up in public.
Commissioners elected not to amend the ordinance to include pot. The law, which makes it illegal to light up in public, should suffice for at least this year’s X Games, Commissioner George Newman said.
Owsley said he brought up the topic because it is a new issue that the county needs to be aware of. Either way, the X Games is not about weed, he said.
“The X Games is not about intoxication of any sort,” Owsley said. “It’s about the celebration of the sport.”
Commissioners also considered the legality of someone smoking marijuana in their car in a parking lot before jumping on a bus to head to X Games. A car could be considered private property where smoking is allowed, but it could also subject the occupant to driving under the influence charges. If a sheriff’s deputy cited that individual, it could preemptively serve as a test case for law makers at the state level, Commissioner Rachel Richards said.
“I’m not so sure we want to create a test case over the X Games,” she said.