Protect local marijuana retailers or open them up to free-market competition?
That was the question before the Aspen City Council during a work session Monday, and the council majority gave its support to keep it local, barring any outsiders from applying for recreational licenses until April 15, 2015.
By extending the town’s recreational marijuana infancy, only medical shops that existed in Aspen — or were in the application process — as of Oct. 1, 2013, can apply for recreational. Mayor Steve Skadron reasoned that limiting the market will help Aspen retain familiarity, foster local industry and mature the marketplace. This was in step with arguments made by Jordan Lewis, owner of Silverpeak Apothecary, one of two Aspen shops that have converted to recreational.
But not all who spoke agreed with the sentiment. Brian Radtke — who works for Aspen Green Dragon, Aspen’s second recreational shop — said he likes protection, but he equated the move to limiting Aspen’s bar scene to only a handful of establishments.
“Mayor, I just think you’re completely naive to sit back and say, ‘I’m going to be here all by myself, and I’m in my own little special place — and Aspen is an extremely special place,” Radtke said, adding that competition allows the cream to rise to the top.
In line with Radtke, Councilman Art Daily said he is a fan of the free-market spirit. In his experience, he has seen a lot of pressure in Aspen for caps on bars and restaurants.
“Over time, the city has resisted that,” he said. “I think that’s generally healthy.”
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she would like to see the protection period extended by six months, but “beyond that, the city is taking too much action.” Skadron offered the April 15 date, so that Aspen shops can experience their first winter season without outside competitors.
Lewis said extending the transitional period will allow “us to get our bearings before we have to fight tooth and nail with the Front Range,” where operating costs are cheaper.
Also speaking at the meeting was Garrett Patrick, co-owner of Stash, located outside city limits at the Aspen Business Center.
“I’m stuck in the county with limited amount of customers and places to move,” Patrick said. “I’ve invested just as much as any of these other people. We would just like to have the option to move into Aspen.”
Per council request, Assistant City Attorney Debbie Quinn said marijuana code can be redefined to allow for existing applicants within the urban growth boundary, which would include Patrick.
Aspen’s other two existing marijuana retailers — Aspen Medial Solutions and Leaf Aspen — have not converted to recreational.
After hearing from the marijuana operators, Councilman Dwayne Romero, who was originally in support of Quinn’s recommendation to let the protection period expire, said he was swayed toward continued limitation.
“I don’t want to see the proliferation of shops on every corner in Aspen,” Romero said. “There’s plenty of wealthy folks with habits that might just treat this as a bit of a hobby.”
Also at issue was the expiration of the state’s requirement that recreational shops grow at least 70 percent of their product. That is set to expire Oct. 1. Radtke, who also helps operate a shop in Glenwood Springs with his father Ron, said he is excited for the expiration because wholesale purchases generate additional tax revenue for Colorado schools.
“If Joe Blow wants to open up a store here and buy cannabis from us, come buy all the cannabis you want from us,” Radtke said.
At the suggestion of Daily, who offered the idea as a form of protection, the council majority agreed to retain the 70 percent rule until April 15.