Aspen City Council talks marijuana dispensary limit
September 25, 2013
The Aspen City Council on Monday night discussed legislation that will pave the way for the sale of recreational marijuana in town.
After the discussion, there were still two lingering issues: the proposal to cap the number of recreational-marijuana retailers in Aspen at the number of established medical dispensaries by Oct. 1, and the proposal to have a 500-foot buffer between schools and marijuana shops.
In the past, city staff has recommended against a buffer, given local schools' distance from the commercial core. With direction from the City Council, city staff came back with the idea for a 500-foot buffer.
On the cap issue, council member Adam Frisch cited Jeff Wertz — who serves on the Liquor License Authority, the entity that will distribute retail licenses. Wertz' position is that Aspen has never capped liquor licenses, so it shouldn't do it with retail marijuana, either.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon pointed out that the cap is similar to the state's position: Colorado is only fielding recreational-retail applications from existing medical facilities until July 1. He also said that it's a temporary measure, one the city can revisit months later. The question is how long should the cap be in place: nine months, a year or two years?
Assistant City Attorney Deborah Quinn said the cap also will help the Liquor License Authority — which will change its name to Local License Authority — deflect inundation of applications.
In the past few weeks, three applicants asked the city to open medical operations before Oct. 1, the cutoff to apply for recreational-retail conversion. So far, one has been approved, joining Alternative Medical Solutions, Leaf Aspen and Silverpeak Apothecary as Aspen's fourth medical retailer. Ron Radtke, owner of Green Essentials dispensary in Glenwood Springs, and a group from Durango also have applied for marijuana-business licenses in Aspen.
When discussing the cap versus a free market, Bendon brought up medical marijuana retail. He said that when it was legalized, six or seven shops sprouted up in Aspen, and then there was a "market shakeout," leaving only three. Eventually, he said, the market for recreational retail also will work itself out.
The cap was included in one of two code amendments discussed by the City Council on Monday night. Council members also discussed the ban on private "pot clubs".
Frisch expressed interest in allowing cafe-style arenas, without the presence of alcohol, where people can purchase and consume marijuana.
The problem with this, Bendon said, is that state law is rather vague when it comes to public consumption, and staff's stance is to let another city test the law's limit. He said they want to "avoid anything that will stir up federal interest."
The marijuana legislation will be up for public hearing at second reading in October.
In other business:
The City Council approved the $96,694 security system proposed at the Yellow Brick Building, which houses Aspen's childcare program Kids First. Cost is covered by the program's capital-reserve fund. Director Shirley Ritter said she hopes installation will take place sooner rather than later and that it will require five to six weeks to complete.