Aspen city staff will study how Denver is handling the issue of “designated consumption areas” for marijuana before sparking further discussions on changes to local regulations considered to be highly restrictive on where pot smoking can take place.
That was the general takeaway from a joint work session Tuesday between members of the Aspen City Council and the Local Licensing Authority, which grants licenses to retail pot shops for sales of recreational and medicinal products.
City Clerk Linda Manning said she and City Attorney Jim True will need to conduct more research on state law and other issues pertaining to pot clubs and consumption areas before going back to the council and the authority next year with any potential suggestions.
“Currently, our code does not permit any private marijuana club or business, so it’s not as if we’re going to see anyone come in and say, ‘There’s a loophole and we’re going to open something in Aspen,’” Manning said after the meeting.
Her memorandum in advance of the meeting notes that the topic of pot-smoking clubs is frequently brought up by applicants for marijuana business licenses as well as members of the Valley Marijuana Council, a local group of officials concerned about responsible marijuana sales and use. The council was formed in the wake of the 2012 statewide referendum legalizing the recreational trade in Colorado.
The memo adds that the city of Denver this year started issuing permits for consumption areas. They are businesses where people 21 and older pay a cover charge and bring their own marijuana to share with friends and others, presumably for social purposes. The businesses cannot advertise and they cannot sell marijuana products. Also, there are strict distance requirements to keep them away from schools and government buildings.
Applicants must obtain support from an eligible neighborhood association to qualify for the permit. Denver city officials do not consider them to be private clubs, “nor do they consider it consuming in public since the applicant has support from the neighborhood,” Manning’s memo says.
Aspen’s marijuana regulations prohibit consumption in public. Technically, pot smoking can only take place on private property if it’s allowed by the property owner. Most local hotels prohibit tobacco or marijuana smoking in rooms or on balconies, making it more difficult — from a legal standpoint — for consumers to imbibe a product that is now sold in seven stores within city limits. An eighth marijuana retail purveyor recently received a license from the authority and is expected to open sometime in 2019.
Neither city council members nor representatives of the licensing authority expressed strong opinions on the topic during Tuesday’s meeting. However, authority board member Bryan Semel suggested that it may be time for the city to start thinking about it.
He said that Aspen’s rules, in effect, force people to smoke marijuana in public areas, such as alleyways, which is illegal.
“It’s coming,” Semel said. “We have to get a plan together.”
But Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron pointed out that a segment of the community doesn’t want marijuana purveyors, pot clubs or anything related to the business. Councilman Adam Frisch said while he welcomes community discussions on the issue, further research about what’s happening in Denver is warranted and there’s no point in rushing toward decisions.
“I’m not saying we have to change the law at this meeting but I think that it should be a talking point because we don’t want to be known as a place where we’re going to turn people away,” Semel said.
Businesses applying for a retail pot license may also want to explore opening a club, he said, but under current rules, the city would have to reject them. “We don’t want to be the person with their arms crossed,” Semel said.
Authority board member Phillip Golden said he wasn’t convinced that the Denver model of consumption areas would be doable in Aspen. He questioned whether people would “pay a door fee to consume a product.” However, Councilman Ward Hauenstein pointed out that while Aspen allows marijuana sales, “we almost force people to break the law.”
Semel suggested that it makes more sense to allow designated consumption areas or clubs than sending smokers into public areas where families and children run the risk of “getting a contact high” — a scenario he said he wanted to avoid.
The council and authority also discussed the need to require marijuana service workers to receive training similar to the “TIPS training” required of those who serve alcohol. Currently, city code requires that 75 percent of the staff employed by a business that serves alcohol attend an in-person training session every three years, according to Manning’s memo.
“Staff would like to make the same mandatory requirement for any retail or medical marijuana store license,” the memo says. “The recommendation would be any owner, manager or 75 percent of bud-tenders need to complete the training within 30 days of receiving approval of the license from the [Local Licensing Authority].”
Manning said she would likely submit a proposed ordinance requiring mandatory bud-tender training sometime early next year.
“It’s just something that will require more interaction between the bud-tender and the customer so that the customer is aware of recommended amounts of [consumption] and responsible use,” she said after the meeting.