Aspen zoning allows pot dispensaries


Medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed anywhere in Aspen that allows an office, the city’s top planning director said Thursday.

The zoning interpretation came in response to at least two enterprises that have inquired where pot clinics could possibly open up in the city.

Aspen’s land-use code does not specifically recognize marijuana dispensaries but Chris Bendon, the city’s community development director, said his office examined various zoning definitions and determined the dispensaries should generally be treated like pharmacies.

“It’s not a use that is specifically called out in our zoning code, which happens quite a bit. Zoning codes don’t predict future uses so we had to do a code interpretation. We looked at uses that these are most similar to in regard to operation, impacts and so on,” Bendon said.

“Looking at this we made the determination that it’s like a pharmacy. The example used was Rodney’s. You bash up your knee, you go to Rodney’s get a prescription for pain,” city planner Drew Alexander added.

If an operations were to sell items not deemed as incidentals of the marijuana dispensary, such as T-shirts, then it would likely be considered more like Carl’s Pharmacy, a traditional drug store that also sells hula-hoops, model airplanes and other merchandise not directly relevant to health. That type of dispensary would have to operate in zones that allow retail activity, the city planners said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are cropping up across Colorado. Voters in November 2000 approved Amendment 20, which authorizes the legalization of marijuana for certain debilitating health conditions. That, combined with a statement from the Obama administration’s drug czar that the federal government won’t crack down on medicinal marijuana dispensaries, has hatched a brave new world for the marijuana business.

In Basalt, a dispensary opened up Monday at the W.I.N. Health Institute on Valley Road. Although that clinic is approved and up and running, town officials recently enacted a 90-day moratorium so planners can craft language that regulates where and how future dispensaries might operate.

In Carbondale, the Colorado Mountain Dispensary began operating in early July, and dozens of other clinics are also marijuana across the state.

The new clinic at the W.I.N. Health Institute sells marijuana but a sign on the front door says the drug is not kept on the premises. The dispensary  also sells multi-vitamins, braces and items you’d find in a doctor’s office. There are also posted signs warning that only adults are allowed in the business, smoking isn’t allowed on the premises and that marijuana is sold for medicinal purposes only.

Aspen’s code interpretation, which was issued Wednesday and forwarded to the two ventures that made the zoning inquiry, was welcomed by one representative of the medicinal marijuana community.

“Aspen understands it’s a medicine and it’s not to be stigmatized. People in the state of Colorado have spoken that they want this medicine available and not zoned into nonexistence,” said Aspen attorney and Colorado NORML board member Lauren Maytin, who represents the W.I.N. Health Institute dispensary and a handful of other like-minded clients who are exploring their options in Aspen and throughout the Interstate 70 corridor.

Maytin noted that just because marijuana is legal in Colorado for medicinal purposes, users are not allowed to drive a car, bike or other vehicle. One of her clients, L.E.A.F. (Locals Emporium of Alternative Farms), is close to signing a lease and will soon be operating within Aspen’s city limits.

Local law enforcement has not expressed opposition to the clinics. But other cities and towns in Colorado haven’t been so tolerable.

“There’s a lot of ‘chatter’ in the planning and police communities around the state concerning these type of businesses,” Bendon said. “Many jurisdictions are taking the approach of managing these businesses as a nuisance, similar to how sex businesses are often regulated —it has to be at least X feet from churches, child care centers, public parks, etc.”

Bendon explained that while that approach is “legitimate” it makes a moral judgment not reserved for liquor stores, bars or pharmacies. “That’s not the route we’re taking. We haven’t taken that approach before.”

Bendon forwarded his office’s land-use interpretation along with a short memo to Aspen City Council, which has not weighed in on the topic yet.