To provide a better understanding of the state’s new recreational pot industry and how it will affect the community, a local group plans to hold a series of meetings on the topic, with the first gathering scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Aspen City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.
The group is called the Valley Marijuana Council. Its members include the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the Aspen Police Department, the Aspen Valley Hospital, the Aspen School District, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Silverpeak Apothecary and others. The group even has a website: ValleyMJCouncil.org.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, who was involved in creating the council, said Thursday’s gathering will focus on basics, such as identifying the different types of cannabis products and their effects on the body and the brain. The second meeting, set for Feb. 20 at Aspen High School, will discuss marijuana as it relates to youth development, providing information that will be helpful to parents, DiSalvo said.
“When I started looking into this and we put together this group of all these stakeholders, I was frankly a little bit surprised how uneducated some of the adults in the room were about the different delivery systems that we now have out there,” he said. “It’s not just green, leafy, smokeable marijuana anymore. It is edibles, drinkables, vaporization. So part of this program (on Thursday) is identifying the product so that everyone can be a little more familiar with a brand-new product in our community.”
For example, he said, edible marijuana products have varying dosages of THC, the abbreviation for the active ingredient in cannabis, which provides pot’s narcotic and psychoactive effects. It’s helpful for people to know how much THC might be present in a piece of marijuana candy, such as the commonly sold “gummy bear” or chocolate cookie, to avoid overconsumption and potential problems. Users could get uncomfortably high or sick by eating too much, too fast.
“A big part of our group is responsible use and educating our public — citizens, children, visitors — as to how to safely use this product,” he said.
With the passage of Amendment 64, the statewide referendum paving the way for recreational pot sales and cultivation, “We didn’t really know what we were in for,” DiSalvo said. “Was it going to be Amsterdam? Was there going to be a vapor lounge on every block?”
But DiSalvo said Aspen has a long history of dealing with issues creatively and transparently.
“So I started thinking about this and said, ‘Why can’t Aspen be a model community for the introduction of this product? We’ll do it right.’”
DiSalvo — who supported Amendment 64, in part because he believes that prohibition of marijuana creates unnecessary problems — said one concern he has about the new industry is its packaging methods. Sometimes the wrapping of edibles is made to look like mainstream candy, which could create confusion among kids or adults, posing a health and safety risk.
“I worry about that around children, those kinds of look-alike products,” he said. “This responsibility is going to fall on the parents and adults. Maybe one of these discussions will be: How do you responsibly keep this product at home and away from your kids? Do you hide it? Do you not buy it? Do you talk with them?”
This week, the Sheriff’s Office set up an “amnesty box” near the federal Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. It allows people to discard any leftover marijuana or edible THC products, without fear of criminal repercussion, prior to undergoing the TSA screening process. Possession and use of marijuana may be legal from the state’s perspective, but they remain federal offenses.
The amnesty box and the informational meetings are examples of being progressive in dealing with the new recreational pot rules, DiSalvo suggested. He said the city and the county’s cautious approaches to writing local rules to complement the state’s regulations show that the community is taking the issue seriously.
“There is a responsibility on government’s part to take this slow,” he said.
While an estimated 60 recreational cannabis shops already have opened across the state, there aren’t any in Aspen or Pitkin County. Silverpeak Apothecary, which already sells the medical pot products from a store on East Cooper Avenue, might be the first to open, perhaps before the end of the month.
The business already has been licensed for recreational sales by the state and city but is waiting for the county to adopt its set of rules. Silverpeak needs the regulations to be in place so that it will be able to use supplies from a farm near Redstone for the retail operation. Pitkin County commissioners are expected to deal with the issue today.
DiSalvo said the Sheriff’s Office will take a common-sense approach to the new laws. For example, if a deputy pulls over a motorist for a traffic violation and smells a strong stench of marijuana, they will use various methods of detecting if a person is high while driving, just as they would for a potential drunken driver.
It is not against the law for someone to purchase a recreational marijuana product from a licensed store and drive with it if it is sealed in a package inside their vehicle and not being smoked or consumed, DiSalvo noted.
Marijuana can only be smoked or consumed on private property, he said. A city street or sidewalk or county open space is public property and off-limits to pot users, DiSalvo said.
He said the council will hold more than two meetings. Future topics and dates have yet to be determined.