In an unusual move at its work session Monday, the Aspen City Council took public comments concerning the regulation of retail marijuana stores.
City staff recommended that for the first year or two, the number of recreational marijuana retailers in Aspen be no greater than the number of established medical dispensaries by Oct. 1 — the deadline to apply for a retail license. Currently there are three medical dispensaries — Alternative Medical Solutions, Leaf Aspen and Silverpeak Apothecary.
But with a handful of medical-license applicants trying to make the Oct. 1 deadline, the number of those converting to retail could increase.
Jordan Lewis, owner of Silverpeak Apothecary, said he’s all for competition, but the uptick in license applicants could introduce a lot of uncertainty.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon proposed the limit on retail marijuana stores so that the city could work with familiar operations at first.
“Outside operators might not have the same level of respect for” local laws and limitations, Bendon said.
Jeff Wertz — who serves on the Liquor License Authority, the entity that will distribute the retail licenses — pointed out that Aspen has never capped liquor licenses, so it shouldn’t do it with retail marijuana, either.
“If someone has a clean background, they get the (liquor) license,” Wertz said.
Adam Rothberg, who represents one of the groups trying to acquire a medical license before Oct. 1, said his client already has signed leases — a requirement in the application. He said he has held a liquor license in the area for 25 years without any infractions.
Damien Horgan, owner of Aspen’s Alternative Medical Solutions, likened the legalization of medical sales a few years ago to the Wild West, voicing his support for the retail-store limit.
Wertz said if the aim is to regulate retail marijuana like liquor, the cap doesn’t make sense.
Before the public-comment portion, the council was supportive of the staff’s recommendation to cap the number of retail outlets, with council member Ann Mullins regarding it as the “cautious approach.” After feedback, Mayor Steve Skadron said that none of the recommendations is binding and that the council will revisit the issue upon first reading in the coming weeks.
The council also supported the idea to allow dual locations of medical and retail sales. With approval, medical facilities could begin selling recreationally Jan. 1. Under the recommendation, medical operations could resume in the same facilities as recreational operations only if businesses prohibit medical patients younger than 21, according to a memo to the City Council.
The possibility of private pot clubs also was discussed, with the council supportive of initially prohibiting those venues. Council member Dwayne Romero was somewhat skeptical at first, suggesting that it might be too rigid of a stance.
“The public should have some ability to have some public setting (to smoke) that doesn’t infringe on too many others in the rest of the community,” Romero said. “The only place you’re going to be able to do it is in the confines of your own residence.”
“That’s interesting,” Mullins said. “If they’re not smoking at home, where else is there?”
“Wherever they smoke it illegally now,” said Assistant City Attorney Deborah Quinn.
Ultimately, the council agreed with the prohibition of private clubs but noted it as an area to monitor in the upcoming year.
The council also agreed with the recommendation to treat recreational marijuana sales as a retail use, allowing shops to open up in zones where liquor stores are allowed. Medical marijuana sales would be treated as a pharmaceutical use, allowing for a percentage of its space to be retail. That would mean a cultivation facility could have a retail component.
Bendon said because of lease rates in Aspen, he doesn’t anticipate a demand for cultivation, manufacturing or testing facilities, an explanation that satisfied the council.
Quinn suggested a $2,000 operating fee, much like those for liquor retailers, and the council was in support.
In November, Colorado is proposing an additional 15 percent tax on sales from cultivation facilities and a 10 percent tax on retail sales. Local jurisdictions can propose an increase in local taxes, as well, but the deadline has passed for Aspen. Jurisdictions that allow retail facilities will be getting a portion of the state’s 10 percent sales tax if it passes.
Application and licensing fees likely will be similar to those for liquor retailers. Local jurisdictions can collect one-half of the state application fee: Medical dispensaries will have to pay $500, while all others will have to pay $5,000.