Colorado Marijuana News
Driving high questioned on busy day in CongressLearn more »
After nearly one year in development, the Chronic Lodge website — which seeks to match marijuana users with pot-friendly vacation units in Colorado and other places where the drug is legal — is expected to launch soon.
Chronic Lodge is the brainchild of longtime Aspen resident Joe Hope and his partner in the project, Brenden Petersen, of Carbondale. Hope said work is underway to make the website, at www.chroniclodge.com, fully functional for property owners with listings and those who want to rent homes, condos and apartments where they won’t be bothered for using marijuana.Learn more »
The city of Aspen is expecting two recreational marijuana license applications by September, and one shop owner believes additional interest from Front Range investors is imminent when the market opens to competition in October.
Aspen medical dispensaries Alternative Medical Solutions and Leaf Aspen are currently in the application process for converting to recreational, and a hearing is expected before the Local Licensing Authority on Sep. 2. Garrett Patrick, owner of Stash in the Aspen Business Center, also has said he has interest in opening a recreational shop in Aspen, but he would have to wait until October to apply. With approval, shop owners would have to wait a minimum of 45 days to convert.Learn more »
Reader LJ Erspamer, a longtime Aspen resident who’s sat on numerous boards, including Planning and Zoning, took quite the issue with last week’s editorial in support of marijuana clubs in Aspen.
Erspamer’s fiery letter to the editor, published in Monday’s Aspen Times, questioned the logic behind this paper’s rationale for advocating pot clubs.Learn more »
After rethinking prior direction that would have barred non-local recreational marijuana-shop owners from opening in Aspen until 2015, the Aspen City Council decided Monday that it wants to allow free-market competition.
However, during the meeting, Councilman Dwayne Romero said he would like the city to explore community need when considering recreational marijuana applications. This way Aspen won’t end up with an excessive number of pot shops. The Local License Authority, which reviews liquor and marijuana applications, should measure community need versus approval — or the idea should at least be considered, Romero argued.Learn more »
On July 9, Pitkin County commissioners adopted new medical marijuana licensing regulations into the county code. Before the adoption, Kerry Weber, a certified yoga instructor and manager at Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness in Basalt, asked the board to reconsider a section addressing facilities requirements.
Weber said she’s concerned about the regulation restricting the sales of any products other than marijuana or marijuana-infused products at a medical pot dispensary. The same regulation applies toward recreational marijuana sales in the county. In other words, the county forbids the sale of paraphernalia, T-shirts and other retail items at medical and recreational marijuana stores.Learn more »
After a slow start, the marijuana industry appears to be budding in the midvalley.
A family in Missouri Heights has applied to build a marijuana cultivation facility on secluded property located off Upper Cattle Creek Drive. The Roaring Fork Regional Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously July 3 to recommend approval. The Eagle County commissioners will review the application Tuesday at a hearing in El Jebel.Learn more »
The Grand County commissioners decided to table a proposal to rezone the former Highland Lumber building on U.S. Highway 40 in Tabernash, which might become a medical-marijuana grow facility.
Wells Fargo Bank took ownership of the 11-acre parcel and building after foreclosing on the owner.Learn more »
Grand County Planning Commission voted four to two against issuing a special use permit for a proposed marijuana grow facility near Granby.
The Department of Planning and Zoning recommended the commission approve the permit.Learn more »
The lines started forming during the week of the Food & Wine Classic and haven’t slowed down since then.
Aspen’s recreational marijuana shops have been booming since the tourist season kicked into high gear in June. According to Hunter Beaudreau, an employee at Green Dragon Aspen, recreational sales have at least doubled in the past month.Learn more »
The Grand County commissioners will conduct a public hearing regarding a special use permit for a marijuana cultivation facility near Granby.
The board will consider the application on Tuesday, July 22, in the Grand County Administration Building in Hot Sulphur Springs.Learn more »
VAIL — While resort towns elsewhere were quick to jump into retail marijuana sales, Vail continues its wait-and-see approach.
The Vail Town Council Tuesday unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance that will extend the town’s current moratorium on retail marijuana sales in town. The town had been working through the spring on perhaps making a final decision on whether or not to ban retail sales in town, facing a self-imposed July 31 deadline.Learn more »
People looking to purchase marijuana in Silverthorne after sundown are now in luck.
On Wednesday night, the Silverthorne Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance extending the hours of operation at retail marijuana shops. Shops can now operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prior town code required them to lock up by 7 p.m.Learn more »
VAIL — The Vail town council voted unanimously to extend its temporary ban on retail marijuana for another year in order to gather more information and observe other towns such as Aspen, who have legalized retail sales.
The town had set a self-imposed July 31 deadline to make a decision on retail sales, but council members said the past year has raised too many questions, with not enough time to answer all of them.Learn more »
VAIL — A public hearing has been scheduled during the Tuesday, June 17 Vail Town Council meeting to continue discussions regarding policy options on the topic of retail marijuana sales. The item is listed sixth on the meeting agenda, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Vail Town Council Chambers.
The Vail Town Council will be reviewing a list of nearly 60 questions and issues forwarded by members of a 16-member working group that has been convened by the town to explore the topic. Representing various organizations throughout the community, the working group has met twice to help shape the public policy discussion.Learn more »
EAGLE COUNTY — A longtime local business family landed one of Eagle County’s rare retail marijuana licenses.
Jim and Kristin Comerford will add The Vail Bud Brewery to their roster of local businesses, which includes Subway sandwich shops, Vail’s Qdoba Mexican Grill and a real estate development company. They’ll partner with another local dispensary owner, Dave and Dieneka Manzanares of Sweet Leaf Pioneer in Eagle.Learn more »
AVON — Town Council members took the first step toward banning retail marijuana sales and grow operations at the April 22 meeting, passing on first reading an ordinance that would ban retail and grow operations in town.
The council voted 6-1 for the ban, with council member Jake Wolf casting the lone dissenting vote. In casting his vote, Wolf noted, as he has in the past, that more than 70 percent of town voters in 2012 voted to approve Amendment 64, the state constitutional amendment that legalized the possession and consumption of marijuana by people 21 and older.Learn more »
EAGLE-VAIL — Greg Honan thinks he might be blazing a new trail in the medical marijuana business. Stephan Shearin hopes he’s right.
Honan is the owner of the Herbal Elements medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle-Vail. He recently partnered with Tranzbyte, a company specializing in the technology of marijuana, to put the first ZaZZZ vending machine in the dispensary.Learn more »
TABERNASH — Agritourism is new a way to experience Colorado’s unique heritage, and now a Grand County group is trying to combine it with another of the state’s fascinations – legalized marijuana.
“We have fabulous marijuana at this altitude,” said Susan Kuglitsch, of Tabernash, a proponent of cannabis agritourism in Grand County. “That secret will get out quick. We’d like to (promote enjoying) it responsibly in a nice family setting.”Learn more »
DENVER — A Colorado proposal to widen a ban on certain types of edible marijuana advanced Thursday in the state House amid concerns that it could be too broad.
What lawmakers are trying to prevent is accidental ingestion by children who can’t tell the difference between a regular cookie or gummy bear and the kinds infused with cannabis. Lawmakers also worry that officials won’t be able to know when students have marijuana at school when the drug is in the form of an edible.Learn more »
DENVER — Authorities say a Wyoming college student who jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony ate more than the recommended serving of a marijuana cookie.
Police reports released Thursday said 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi consumed a little more than one cookie that his friend purchased from a pot shop.Learn more »
RED CLIFF — Voters here Tuesday retained two town council members and rejected a proposed ban on medical marijuana operations.
Anuschka Bales and Tom Henderson, both current board members, were both elected to four-year terms. But the election still leaves the seven-member board short two people. Town clerk Barb Smith said the town will post the vacancies, with a 30-day period for interested people to apply for the board positions.Learn more »
Different issues will be on the front burner when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws returns to Aspen for a legal seminar in May.
NORML has held a spring conference in Aspen for about 12 consecutive years. It’s not ready to abandon the town now that marijuana has been legalized for adults in Colorado, said Executive Director Allen St. Pierre.Learn more »
EAGLE COUNTY — At the Sweet Leaf Pioneer medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle, Dieneka Manzanares gets calls and visitors just about every day. Many are tourists, looking to buy legal marijuana while on vacation to the Vail Valley. Right now, she has to turn them all away.
Those calls and visits are familiar to Murphy Murray, the co-owner and general manager of the Tree Line dispensary in Eagle-Vail.Learn more »
GRANBY — A batch of drug-laced Chex-Mix delivered to Middle Park Medical Center staff around Christmastime has tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical compound found in marijuana, according to Granby Police Chief Bill Housley.
Though the department knows who delivered the treats and has transferred the case to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution, Housley said the District Attorney’s Office is inclined not to prosecute the case due to a lack of intent to deliver the THC-laced treats to the hospital staff.Learn more »
Officials: Pot and Snowmass not a good mixMarch 19, 2014 —
The Snowmass community doesn’t need recreational marijuana shops, the town’s marketing board told Town Council at a meeting Monday.
The council determined in a work session last week that it wasn’t ready to ban or to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana because most members were concerned about damaging the town’s family-friendly reputation. It agreed that its first point of research would be to ask the members of the Marketing, Special Events and Group Sales Board what their thoughts were.
The board consists of nine members, most representing a sector of the tourism industry. The eight members present at the March 17 meeting all said, for varying reasons, that they thought it unwise for Snowmass Village to offer pot for sale.
Several of the board members pointed out that if tourists want to buy pot, they can drive to the Aspen Business Center or to Aspen. Steve Santomo, general manager of a rental-property company, said some of his guests do ask and he points them to those locations.
“We don’t need to have it,” Santomo said. “If they want it that badly, ... they go get it or find a way to get it.”
Board member Scott Calliham said even as a bar owner he liked the idea of being a family-friendly resort.
“If we have one or two pot shops I think that begins to diminish that right away,” Calliham said.
“There’s far more downside risk than upside opportunities to approve,” said board member Howard Gross. “Frankly, I don’t understand why council hasn’t taken a stand on that.”
Mayor Bill Boineau told the board that the council was waiting to hear from them and that he also was concerned about listening to voters. In Pitkin County, 75.44 percent of residents voted in favor of Amendment 64, the statewide referendum that legalizes marijuana sales and consumption, in 2012.
“What better survey than people who live here,” Boineau said.
Gross responded by saying that although Colorado voted for Amendment 64, most towns are choosing to ban the sale of recreational pot in their municipalities.
“That’s the difference,” Gross said. “There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Yes we approve that law that passed, but we don’t want it in our community.”
Smoking in public
Much of the discussion also revolved around the need to enforce public smoking laws. It is illegal to smoke marijuana in public places, and many hotels have rules banning all smoking, but it’s still a problem, some board members say.
Board chairman John Borthwick said he’s been “cropdusted” by people smoking marijuana on chairlifts and on the Mall.
“Personally I think it’s time for a smoking ban of any substance,” said board chairman John Borthwick. “It is something that we really do need to get in front of.”
Santomo said most of the properties he manages are smoke-free, but the rule is hard to enforce. He also cautioned against an outright ban, saying that 40 to 50 percent of international guests smoke cigarettes.
“If we’re going to allow for smoking somewhere, then it needs to be under a controlled environment,” Borthwick said.
Calliham said he doesn’t allow smoking in his restaurants and that there is sometimes some “push back” from guests. Considering a total prohibition of smoking in town “would beg a lot of further examination.”
“I think the open use of marijuana has increased dramatically since (Amendment 64),” Calliham said. “I think that message could be reiterated publicly.”
FBI balks at marijuana background checks in Washington, but not ColoradoMarch 14, 2014 —
SEATTLE — The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado — a discrepancy that illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows the states to experiment with regulating a drug that’s long been illegal under federal law.
Washington state has been asking for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau’s refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state — undermining the department’s own priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry.
It’s a strange jam for the feds, who announced last summer that they wouldn’t sue to prevent Washington and Colorado from regulating marijuana after 75 years of prohibition.
The Obama administration has said it wants the states to make sure pot revenue doesn’t go to organized crime and that state marijuana industries don’t become a cover for the trafficking of other illegal drugs. At the same time, it might be tough for the FBI to stomach conducting such background checks — essentially helping the states violate federal law.
The Justice Department declined to explain why it isn’t conducting the checks in Washington when it has in Colorado. Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, referred an Associated Press inquiry to DOJ headquarters, which would only issue a written statement.
“To ensure a consistent national approach, the department has been reviewing its background check policies, and we hope to have guidance for states in the near term,” it said in its entirety.
In Washington, three people so far have received licenses to grow marijuana — without going through a national background check, even though the state Liquor Control Board’s rules require that that they do so before a license is issued.
“The federal government has not stated why it has not yet agreed to conduct national background checks on our behalf,” Washington state Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said in an email. “However, the Liquor Control Board is ready to deliver fingerprints as soon as DOJ is ready.”
In the meantime, officials are relying on background checks by the Washington State Patrol to catch any in-state arrests or convictions. Applicants must have lived in Washington state for three months before applying, and many are longtime Washington residents whose criminal history would likely turn up on a State Patrol check. But others specifically moved to the state in hopes of joining the new industry.
“Both Washington state and Washington, D.C., have been unequivocal that they want organized crime out of the marijuana business,” said Alison Holcomb, the Seattle lawyer who authored the legal pot law. “Requiring, and ensuring, nationwide background checks on Washington state licensees is a no-brainer.”
The FBI has run nationwide background checks since 2010 on applicants who sought to be involved in medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, Daria Serna, a spokeswoman for that state’s Department of Revenue, said in an email. The applicants provide fingerprints to Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, which turns them over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The agency conducts a statewide background check and supplies the prints to the FBI for a national check.
Because Colorado launched its marijuana industry by converting medical dispensaries to recreational pot shops, it’s likely that no additional background checks were required for the key employees of those shops, Serna said. However, all new employees of recreational or medical shops must undergo the same background checks — and those are still being processed, Serna said.
In Washington, officials use a point system to determine whether someone’s criminal history is too concerning to grant them a license to grow, process or sell marijuana under the state’s law, passed by voters in 2012. A felony within the past 10 years normally disqualifies an applicant, as does being under federal or state supervision for a felony conviction.
The state received more than 7,000 applications during a monthlong window that began in November. Applicants are required to supply fingerprints and disclose their criminal history, with omissions punishable by license forfeiture or denial. But without a federal background check, there’s no way for state officials to verify what the applicants report.
Under rules adopted by the Liquor Control Board, the applicants’ fingerprints must be submitted to the State Patrol and the FBI for checks as a condition of receiving a license. Asked whether issuing licenses without the FBI check contradicted that rule, Smith wrote: “Applicants have provided the prints necessary for running the check.”
Western Slope police officers watch weed industry evolveMarch 14, 2014 —
This is the final part in a two-part series focusing on marijuana law enforcement and education.
EAGLE COUNTY — Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson thinks anyone who feels strongly about either side of the legalized marijuana argument is just, excuse the pun, blowing smoke.
Wilson said the decision-making so far stems from who had the most money to throw at the campaign. In 10 or 20 years, Coloradoans might ask themselves what they’ve done. Or, perhaps they’ll ask what took so long to legalize weed in the first place.
“It’s a big roll of the dice,” Wilson said. “And we’ll find out if we won or lost in a generation.”
Wilson and every law enforcement officer in the state is facing that uncertainty head-on. New laws allow Colorado residents over the age of 21 to legally buy, use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Out of state residents can purchase up to ¼ ounce in a single transaction, but can possess up to one ounce.
New laws equal new laws to be broken. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy doesn’t think legalized weed means his department will have less to do in the way of enforcement. In fact, it could turn out to be just the opposite.
“There’s still enough illegal marijuana out there coming in to the state,” Hoy said. “We still have enough (illegal) business out there we need to deal with.”
And, marijuana is still illegal to use in public. It’s illegal for anyone under 21 without a medical marijuana card, and it’s illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
“Arrests will be made based on our understanding of the laws,” Wilson said. “Court proceedings and appeals will flesh out what little there is in the gray areas.”
Wilson expects public consumption to be one of the bigger concerns as legal recreational marijuana integrates into mountain communities. He remembers a wave of public pot smoking after medical marijuana was legalized when officers frequently found users lighting up right on Main Street.
Wilson said he knows another police officer who works near the Colorado-Wyoming border, where every weekend it’s like a Cheech and Chong movie. Wyoming residents are being caught coming back from Colorado with marijuana, their cars often completely full of smoke when they’re pulled over.
While those kinds of traffic stops make it easy for police officers trying to determine whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana, there are plenty of traffic stops when it’s not so obvious. That’s why law enforcement agencies across the mountain resort region and the state are training officers in drug recognition.
The Colorado Drug Recognition Expert program began in 1987, but the state’s new legalized marijuana industry is making it more popular. Wilson has multiple officers trained, while Hoy said he has three officers trained through the program. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department has one expert, said Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, and in Breckenridge — where there are four operating recreational marijuana stores open — Police Chief Shannon Haynes said her officers are familiar with roadside tests for marijuana. She’s also sending an officer to the drug recognition expert training.
“There’s a big push across the state to get more trained in drug recognition,” Haynes said.
There’s also a push to get the state to cough up more of its marijuana tax proceeds. The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police last week sent a letter to the state asking for access to funds for enforcement because officers are having to divert their time away from other priorities.
Driving under the influence
The Colorado Department of Transportation launched a campaign last week targeting “drugged driving.” The education campaign — called Drive High, Get a DUI — is a direct response to legalized marijuana. In 2012, the department reported 630 drivers involved in 472 motor vehicle fatalities in Colorado. Of the 630 drivers, 286 were tested for drugs, with 12 percent testing positive for cannabis.
Avon Police Chief Bob Ticer is chair of the Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving and is promoting the CDOT campaign locally. He said police departments are not only certifying more drug recognition experts, but also more Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, known as ARIDE. That program isn’t as intensive as the drug recognition expert program, but it goes beyond the level of training police officers receive in police academies.
“The whole intent of this campaign in public awareness that it’s unlawful to drive a vehicle under the influence of any substance,” Ticer said. “We are really wanting to emphasize that (marijuana) is a substance that causes impairment.”
A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 6.8 percent of drivers, mostly under age 35, who were involved in accidents tested positive for THC; alcohol levels above the legal limit were found in 21 percent of such drivers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana impairs judgment, motor coordination and slows reaction time, research shows.
“We’ve had impaired drivers by marijuana since people have been driving cars,” Ticer said. “There are misperceptions about it — some think it’s not as dangerous as alcohol to drive on. I would say that it’s just a different drug; it acts differently in the body.”
And when people mix drugs — marijuana and alcohol are common pairings — impairment increases.
The American Association for Clinical Chemistry reported in 2013 that cannabis is second only to alcohol for causing impaired driving and motor vehicle accidents. The research, which was published in the journal Clinical Chemistry, also reported that cannabis smokers had a 10-fold increase in car crash injury compared with infrequent or nonusers.
The concern over impairment expands beyond Colorado’s roadways, too. At the end of February, Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service announced they would be working together to destroy so-called “smoke shacks” at the company’s ski resorts. The illegal structures had been built for the purposes of smoking marijuana while skiing, something that is just as illegal as driving under the influence.
“The safety of our guests and our employees is our highest priority and we therefore take a zero tolerance approach to skiing or riding under the influence,” said Blaise Carrig, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, in a joint statement released by the company and the Forest Service. “We do not permit the consumption of marijuana in or on any of our lifts, facilities or premises that we control. … We want the public to know that the consequences of being caught smoking marijuana on our mountains are removal from the mountain and the suspension of skiing and riding privileges.”
Recreational marijuana store owners are also trying to inform customers who might not know the laws. At Stash, a store just across from the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, co-owner Garrett Patrick told a Texas couple last week where they should consume their pot. He specifically said not while driving or skiing.
The woman, in her 60s, shrugged her shoulders after Patrick walked away and said she’d be using her newly purchased cannabis on the chair lift.
Pitkin Sheriff Joe DiSalvo hopes efforts throughout his county and the entire mountain resort region will result in more responsible marijuana use. Because so many of the customers walking into the pot shops in places like Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge will be tourists, educating them truly is up to the communities, he said.
That’s why DiSalvo was so supportive of Jordan Lewis, owner of the Silverpeak Apothecary in downtown Aspen.
“He’s doing it the right way,” DiSalvo said.
Anyone who purchases marijuana at Silverpeak can ask a staff member anything about the laws, but Lewis also provides a pamphlet that guides customers toward responsible use. It outlines everything from consumption guidelines to possession laws. Conveniently, there’s also a disclaimer on the back cover telling customers the contents of the pamphlet should not be taken as legal or medical advice.
“Our goal was to establish an environment that allowed for interaction and education that people would feel comfortable about,” Lewis said. “We want to remove all the reservations people have about buying cannabis and create an environment where they feel safe and secure and it feels appropriate.”
In Breckenridge, Haynes said the ratio of tourists to locals buying marijuana at the beginning of the year was 8 to 1. So, the town and police department have worked together to pass out information much like Lewis’s pamphlet in Aspen. Haynes said they’ve printed about 2,000 informational cards with the basic facts and a link pointing tourists toward more information. The cards are available at hotels, restaurants, town hall, the police department and the recreation center.
The town and police department are also working with nonprofits and Colorado Mountain College on panel discussions.
“I do still feel like we don’t know what we don’t know,” Haynes said. “There will be things that pop up that we didn’t anticipate.”
One of those ‘things’ on her mind is the fact that marijuana stores are cash businesses because most can’t get financing from federally insured banks. That means credit cards aren’t accepted, too. Haynes thinks the state did a good job mandating surveillance cameras and other security measures, but you never know. She said there has only been one burglary of a medical marijuana store since they opened in town roughly 4 years ago.
“Knock on wood,” she said.
Paying the man
Bryan Welker feels a lot better about buying marijuana legally, even though the state and municipalities have imposed hefty taxes. Welker, of Carbondale, was the first person the legally buy recreational weed in Pitkin County last week.
He hopes that paying those taxes helps keep marijuana in the right hands.
“It’s above ground now — let’s make it harder to get for kids, not easier,” Welker said. “I think we’ve moved this beyond the alley deal. I don’t think people want to go back to that, but price drives everything. It’s better to pay the government the money than a cartel — I don’t think anybody would disagree with that”
Drugs like heroin, cocaine and illegal market marijuana are rising in popularity in the mountains, though, Hoy said. While the back alley deal might not be necessary anymore, he doesn’t think it’s going to disappear. Undersheriff Mike McWilliam expects the Mexican drug cartels to find a way into the legal business.
“It’s a very big concern of mine that more of the stuff will get into the schools, especially edibles and all of that,” he said. “I don’t think the Mexican drug cartels are going to throw up their hands and say, ‘forget it.’”
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 970-777-3125.
Recreational pot is here — now what?March 13, 2014 —
Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two-part series about the effects of legalized marijuana on children and law enforcement agencies.
EAGLE COUNTY — Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo hugged Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis just before the store made its first recreational marijuana sale March 5.
“I’m glad you’re doing this,” DiSalvo told him. “This is a big deal for all of us. You’re doing this the right way — this is the model.”
It was a sight that might have seemed normal in Aspen, but it was still a sight that made you scratch your head a little bit. A sheriff hugging a pot shop owner — you don’t see that every day.
Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws, which were written, rewritten and revised throughout 2013, took effect Jan. 1 of this year. Since then, law enforcement agencies around the state have been adjusting to the times, with many chiefs and sheriffs reacting with less enthusiasm or optimism than DiSalvo has.
But DiSalvo feels he has no reason to respond any other way. The two dispensaries that were the first to open in Pitkin County for recreational sales — Stash and the Silverpeak Apothecary, both on March 5 — were responsible throughout the entire application process, DiSalvo said.
“I think they waited to do it right and I think that’s a big part of why I feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “I just want it to be done right.”
A right to weed
“Nobody wakes up at 9 a.m. to buy weed.”
That’s what Bryan Welker, of Carbondale, said after becoming the first person to buy legal recreational marijuana in Pitkin County March 5. It was 9:30 a.m. and Stash, located in the Aspen Business Center in unincorporated Pitkin County, had been open for recreational sales for 30 minutes. Only a handful of customers had walked through the doors by mid-morning, though.
Welker handles marketing for the business and arrived that morning to snap a few pictures. When he saw no one in line, he immediately realized he had the opportunity to become a part of Pitkin County history.
“So, I took that opportunity,” he said with a smile.
It was an exciting time for the store’s owners and employees. The guy checking IDs in the foyer area struggled to get his ID swipe machine to work, but other than that it was smooth sailing. Customers, most of whom did not look like stereotypical potheads, trickled through the doors all morning to buy marijuana.
A couple in their 60s came in, donning designer ski gear including a Descente jacket and a Gucci belt. They curiously looked at the display cases and quickly asked a staff member for help choosing the right marijuana products to smoke through an electronic smoking device.
The Texas couple has a second home in Aspen and wanted to stock up before skiing Aspen Mountain for the day. They didn’t want their names published, because “you never know who, of your friends up here, would be totally against this,” the woman said softly in a Southern accent.
Her husband said they hadn’t tried marijuana in 35 years and wanted to experiment again. They chose the electronic device because they don’t like the smell of weed or the idea that it might coat their clothing or furniture when smoked.
Weed on the brain
An Aspen mother of two, Jenn, came in around 9:45 a.m. after dropping her kids off at ski school for the day. The 40-something mom, who didn’t want her last name published, said she used to protest for marijuana legalization 20 years ago while attending college in Northern California. She made her purchase and was thrilled to finally exercise her right, she said.
While her children are not old enough yet, Jenn knows that she’ll someday be the one to educate them about substances like alcohol and marijuana. She admits she feels more guarded about legal marijuana than others might because she’s a mother. She questions whether the legal purchase age of 21 is too young since research shows that brains are still developing up to 25 years old.
That’s a point that DiSalvo and the Valley Marijuana Council, a group organized by DiSalvo made up of community and business leaders, want to drive home. The group has been working to promote marijuana education for children in the Roaring Fork Valley as legal recreational marijuana integrates into the community.
“The main message is, ‘It’s not for (children) — delay, delay, delay; put this off as long as you can,’” DiSalvo said. “If you can make it past 21, you’ve done yourself a big favor. … This is not a product for children. We have to keep hammering that home like we do with alcohol, driving, coffee — all the things we don’t want kids to do when they’re developing.”
In a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin about the impacts of alcohol and marijuana on the young brain, early marijuana use points to severe cognitive consequences.
“Converging lines of evidence suggest that regular use of marijuana, starting before 18, is associated with increased deficits in poorer attention, visual search, reduced overall or verbal IQ, and executive functioning,” the report states.
Colorado Teen Weed Brain is another group that formed in the Roaring Fork Valley to tackle this very subject. The group hosts educational forums to spread the word to parents and children in the community that marijuana, although legal, is not OK for kids. Their next meeting features a panel of medical and industry professionals on April 17 at Carbondale Middle School.
Roaring Fork School District spokeswoman Sheryl Barto said school principals have been reporting increased use and availability of marijuana since the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“Much of this is what students are reporting and what adults are observing; we haven’t yet seen statistical confirmation,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if we find spikes when we do our annual health surveys.”
School district officials had tried to examine discipline data over the past few years to determine whether there were changes in disciplinary action since medical marijuana was legalized, but data samples were too small, she said.
The 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a risk behavior survey of middle and high school students in Colorado done every two years, shows that marijuana use had not increased among high school students since medical marijuana became legal. Results from the 2013 survey are not yet available.
While things are running pretty smoothly in Breckenridge, where Police Chief Shannon Haynes said there hasn’t been an increase in marijuana-related issues since recreational shops opened in town at the beginning of the year, she still has concerns about local children and teenagers.
Still illegal for children
“That’s my only fear, I think, in this whole big picture,” she said. “Sometimes we lose sight of the education piece that is so important for our youth. Because of the medical piece and being around that for a couple of years, I think our youth starts to think of this as not an intoxicating substance like alcohol. We have to work hard to ensure we’re education our young people about the risk.”
Haynes said that’s happening in Summit County — that schools, social services and nonprofits are partnering together to spread the message. She’s encouraged by results in the community, too. Between the start of ski season and the end of December, she said Breckenridge issued 15 tickets to minors openly consuming marijuana.
“But it’s dropped off drastically since Jan. 1,” she said.
The Eagle River Youth Coalition, a nonprofit in Eagle County that works with schools and youth throughout the region on reducing substance abuse, has multiple efforts underway to prevent marijuana use. A program in its pilot stage at Berry Creek Middle School, called Project Alert, was so successful last fall that it will be growing this year, the coalition’s executive director Michelle Hartel Stecher said. For high schools, a similar program called Project Towards No Drug Abuse is also successfully underway. Both programs teach students about drugs during health classes at school.
There are no recreational marijuana stores open yet in Eagle County, but the coalition is already well prepared for challenges relating to the new industry.
“The biggest shift we’re seeing is that kids are reporting that marijuana is less harmful,” Hartel Stecher said. “When less harm is perceived, typically kids will start doing that behavior more. … Another shift we’re seeing is that they’re reporting it’s easier to get, so that’s concerning for us.”
In Eagle County, surveys show that kids report that “someone gave it to me” as the most common way they access marijuana, she said.
The news has prompted new programs for parents, such as parent education workshops that teach parents how to handle conversations about drugs with their teenage children. The next program is six sessions, spread over six weeks, beginning April 7.
At the Eagle County School District, which also works closely with the Eagle River Youth Coalition, lessons about drugs focus on the consequences of drug use so students can make the right decisions, said spokesman Dan Dougherty. Instruction has also adapted with the times as educators see new issues to be concerned about.
“The legalization of marijuana has elevated the sophistication of the drug culture — vapor cigarettes can be adapted for marijuana, prescription inhalers, the odor is being reduced and/or eliminated to make it harder to detect — so our instruction is responding to include these new techniques,” Dougherty said. “This has a two-fold effect: it conveys that we know what is going on (and how to catch wrong doing), and warns them of what to be leery of.”
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson likes the community collaboration he’s seeing in response to legalized marijuana, but he’s not so sure the true effects of legalized marijuana will be known for some time. When medical marijuana was legalized, he was pleasantly surprised that his department saw a lot less trouble with it than anticipated. He said there was, however, “a proliferation of 16-year-olds showing up at high school smoked out of their gourds.”
“I truly don’t believe we’re going to understand the consequences for 10 to 20 years,” Wilson said. “Are we going to raise a generation of people less developed and less productive because of allowances we’re making? The answer scares me.”
Read tomorrow’s paper for part 2, which looks at the law enforcement side of legalized marijuana.
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-777-3125.
Vail Resorts issues statement on mountain ‘smoke shacks’March 12, 2014 —
VAIL — When a structure on the ski hill comes down, for many it’s a sad moment.
Whether it’s Two Elk, destroyed illegally in 1998, or Jaz’s Cabin, destroyed in the name of the law in 2012, it’s been said it’s like losing a close friend or family member. Breckenridge skiers felt that sadness this week with the destruction of their beloved “Leo’s” cabin, but the dynamite used to destroy it was only the beginning of the explosion, as social media sites blew up with activity in response and Vail Resorts issued a press release on the matter.
But long-time local residents in Vail say this is nothing new — shack builders have been putting up secret structures, and the Forest Service has been tearing them down, since the ’60s. Places like the fabled Tuck ‘em Inn, or the Ice Bar on Vail Mountain come to mind.
Vail legend Bill Whiteford is mentioned in Vail’s 50th anniversary movie, “The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” where his Ice Bar structure on Vail Mountain was not only erected illegally, it was profitable.
“We went up there at night, gathered ice blocks, built the ice bar at night and opened it during the day,” an unnamed accomplice says in the movie. “It was a howling success.”
Guilt by association
The Ice Bar was eventually torn down — as was the Tuck ‘em Inn, with its wood floors and silk sheets — and countless others since.
So, why the press release this time? It’s the structures’ link to marijuana that has Vail Resorts officials on edge, and the jargon applied to them hasn’t helped, either.
The structures are “commonly referred to as ‘smoke shacks,’” Russ Pecoraro, director of Vail Resorts communications wrote in the release, adding that they are “associated with prohibited marijuana use.”
Although the release references illegal structures and not marijuana in its headline, the statement was less about the shacks, and more about how the resort is going to handle marijuana on the slopes, Pecoraro said.
“I think the impression a lot of people are getting from the media is that you can come out here and consume marijuana on our slopes and we are here to tell you, you can’t do that. (The press release) is an example of what me mean,” Pecoraro said.
Some shacks survive
Breckenridge officials said a hidden-camera report about marijuana smoking at Leo’s — featured on Inside Edition in February — accelerated the cabin’s demise. But Leo’s was targeted to be destroyed anyway, Breckenridge Resort wrote on their official Facebook page, so it was just a matter of time. Structures on Vail Mountain have been destroyed nearly every spring during the past few years, including a 20-foot tall tree house in the spring of 2011. Structures such as the tree house at Vail and Leo’s at Breck, some of them are quite impressive.
However, “the long and short of it is, it’s illegal to build these structures without a permit on National Forest land, so we’re there to uphold our end of the bargain with the Forest Service,” Pecoraro said. “It’s this game, where we tear them down, and they build them back up.”
But not every shack on Vail Moutain will be destroyed, Pecoraro added.
“There are a couple that are historical sites,” he said. “We need to figure out a different way to approach those, whether it’s boarding them up or whatever ... We have talked at a high-level that these cases are out there, but I don’t know exactly where they are located.”
WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?
Pecoraro said safety on the mountain is the resort’s top priority, and acknowledged that many are asking the question “what about alcohol?”
“The difference with alcohol is also we have people serving in bars who are certified and trained not to over serve folks,” he said.
The resort plans to step-up enforcement of any kind of skiing under the influence, alcohol or marijuana, Pecoraro said. Pecoraro said he didn’t know the measures that will used to determine what constitutes “under the influence,” but those determined to be under the influence risk legal issues as well as resort penalties.
“We are going to report folks to ski patrol or security. We are going to pull your pass. We are going to kick you off the mountain, and if law enforcement happens to be there when we do that, you’re going to get cited as well,” he said.