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.
“We could see 25 shops, and half of them don’t even care about (profit and loss),” Romero said, contending that some retailers just want an Aspen location, regardless of revenue. “Pick a product: fur, jewelry, high-end clothing. They don’t have such an immediate harm to the public. It’s hard to get high on fur. It’s hard to go crash into somebody with a DUI when you’ve bought jewelry.”
To Romero’s suggestion, City Attorney Jim True said that historically — concerning restaurants, bars and liquor stores — it has never been determined that community need is not being met.
“That track record doesn’t give me comfort in how it should be applied going forward,” Romero said.
Last week, the council majority supported direction that would have extended the town’s transitional period, meaning only medical shops that existed in Aspen — or were in the application process — as of Oct. 1 could apply for recreational until April 2015.
On Monday, Mayor Steve Skadron opened the discussion, saying he had second thoughts after the work session, where only preliminary direction was provided. The free market in Aspen worked itself out with medical marijuana, Skadron reasoned, so why should it be different with recreational?
“A marketplace should be dealt with as every one of our other markets: hotels, restaurants, etc.,” he said. “Let the free market address this rather than extend protection.”
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said that she wasn’t convinced in the first place that extension of the transition period was necessary.
“This business is going to be in transition for a couple years before we really understand what’s working and what the needs are,” she said. “So I would rather open it up sooner than later and start understanding what the impacts are.”
Councilman Art Daily said he agreed with the mayor, while Councilman Adam Frisch was absent.
The council gave 4-0 approval to the direction discussed Monday. By allowing the transitional period to expire, the market will open in October.
At last week’s work session, Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis asked the council to extend the protection so that local shops can get their bearings “before having to battle tooth and nail with the Front Range,” where operating costs are cheaper. Skadron was of the opinion then that limiting the market would help Aspen retain familiarity and foster local industry.
Brian Radtke, who works for Aspen Green Dragon, 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.
“It’s hard to get high on fur. It’s hard to go crash into somebody with a DUI when you’ve bought jewelry.”
Councilman Dwayne Romero