Back in December 2012, the line out of City Hall regarding the coming reality of legal pot dispensaries was “we’re not going to freak out,” according to the head of the city’s planning office.
Now that state rules governing the legal pot trade have been drafted and the first retail stores are set to open in January, the posture has changed to “we are undecided as to whether we are going to freak out,” community development director Chris Bendon said.
To get an answer, assistant city attorney Debbie Quinn is reviewing the hundreds of pages of new state laws and regulations that have come out in recent months, which are intended to manage the pot trade like the alcohol business. Her review aims to give the city an idea of what would happen if it did nothing, if there are any steps it is required to take, and if there are any steps the city should take in addition to the state rules.
Quinn will present her findings to city officials and City Council sometime in August or September.
There are numerous potential issues. For example, the state rules require a 1,000-foot buffer between pot dispensaries and schools. Quinn is researching whether “schools” also would apply to ski schools, and therefore result in a prohibition on bud bodegas within 1,000 feet of Aspen Mountain and its ski school. If so, that leads to the question of whether the city could amend that restriction to allow dispensaries in that area of the downtown core.
Cities have a deadline of Oct. 1 to craft their own rules regulating retail pot stores, but it’s unclear whether a municipal government may pass any rules after that, so that is another matter Quinn is investigating.
But if there are any issues that Aspen obviously needs to address at the outset, it will do so before Oct. 1, Quinn said. That would mean having an ordinance conceived and drafted by no later than mid-September.
“In the next couple of weeks I’m going to hit it pretty hard,” Quinn said of her research. “... That’s kind of where we are — we know we have a deadline to decide whether or not we are going to worry about it.”
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will get the first crack at retail pot stores, and are allowed to apply for a license starting in October, with the ability to convert to a public retail business after the new year. On Jan. 1, anyone else may apply for a retail license, but the state doesn’t have to grant those until July.
Carbondale, Basalt and New Castle have moved to ban retail dispensaries from their jurisdictions, and unincorporated Garfield County is considering a similar move.