Voters in Leadville will likely be given the chance to vote this fall on decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana for private use by adults 21 years or older.
And an attorney in Aspen is weighing whether to put a similar question in front of Aspen voters.
The Leadville City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to direct their city attorney to draft language that would change the city’s municipal code, which today allows for a fine of up to $100 for someone possessing less than an ounce of pot.
“It’s nice to see that our community is behind this,” said Ken Griffin of Leadville, who is leading the decriminalization effort. “We still have a few people who think it is a gateway, but man, that argument is 40 years old.”
According to Joe Swyers, the Leadville city clerk, about 20 people came to the council meeting Tuesday to talk about pot. Swyers said about 60 percent of those who came voiced their opposition to the question, including Katie Baldassar of The Build a Generation Coalition, a Leadville nonprofit that seeks to protect kids from risky behavior.
Baldassar said research has shown that when it comes to the use of drugs and alcohol by kids, increased availability and an increased acceptance in the community are two factors that can influence kids’ decisions.
“Our concern is that choosing to legalize marijuana does both of these things,” Baldassar said in an interview Wednesday.
Leadville City Council still needs to vote to formally put the measure on the ballot, but city officials said the council members intend to place the question before Leadville voters in November, even if all of them don’t necessarily support legalization.
“They all voiced opinions that the question should be put to the voters,” said Padraic Smith, the director of administrative services for Leadville.
Voters in Lake County, where Leadville is located, voted 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of Amendment 44 in 2006, which sought to decriminalize adult possession of less than an ounce. There are about 5,000 residents in Lake County and about 2,800 in Leadville, which is just over Independence Pass from Aspen. Amendment 44 failed on a statewide basis by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
If the Leadville council does put such a question directly on the ballot, it would be the first time that a group of city elected officials in Colorado have done so, said Sean McAllister, an attorney in Summit County who helped get a similar question in front of Breckenridge voters last fall through a petition process. That measure was approved and also included decriminalizing paraphernalia, which the Leadville question does not address.
“Leadville is part of a growing list of communities who feel that marijuana should be legal,” McAllister said. “It’s just a continual march toward legalization in the state of Colorado and I applaud them for it. Breckenridge led the way and people are no longer afraid to be vocal about this.”
Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin said she is aware that some people are discussing if a similar question might be right for Aspen. Maytin is on the board of directors of the Colorado chapter of NORMAL, a nonprofit working to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.
“There is a discussion that I am aware of in regard to trying to figure out what to do in Aspen,” Maytin said. “There is discussion happening about what a proposal should be for Aspen.”
Maytin wouldn’t elaborate or say who is having the discussions.
The Aspen municipal code is silent on the issue of marijuana and so the city relies on state law when it comes to pot possession, which means it is a petty offense and a $100 fine to possess less than an ounce.
McAllister said Aspen voters could change the city’s municipal code to make it explicitly legal for adults to possess less than an ounce.
“I’d be happy to have Aspen weigh in on this,” McAllister said. “Frankly, because of your reputation, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.”