Private-property marijuana use in Aspen? No problem
Ryan Summerlin November 19, 2013
The city of Aspen’s recently passed pot regulations don’t address open marijuana smoking on private property, according to the officials who crafted the new rules.
Basically, that’s because at this point, the city doesn’t believe the pot users, whether locals or visitors, will get out of hand. Therefore, it is OK for people to smoke in the comfort of their own yards, fenced or not, as well as their balconies, rooftops and patios. The city’s law prohibits open smoking on public property, such as sidewalks, streets, parks and alleys.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon said if cannabis-smoking on private property leads to problems down the road, the Aspen City Council can visit the matter. The Denver City Council has been grappling lately with the question of private-property pot use and reportedly is headed toward a hands-off approach following some outcry from civil libertarians.
Amendment 64, the 2012 statewide referendum that requires marijuana to be regulated like alcohol, set the stage for Aspen’s direction on the issue.
“If you were in your yard with a joint, and walked onto the sidewalk, once you are on the sidewalk you are ‘openly and publicly’ consuming.” Debbie Quinn, city attorney
“The law prohibits open public consumption, but so do the laws surrounding alcohol,” Bendon said. “You can’t wander down the pedestrian malls with a beer in your hand. But if you’re sitting on your porch having a beer, that’s fine. Our approach was, if the whole intent was to model the (marijuana laws around the) liquor code, then that seems to work.”
The possibility of massive clouds of marijuana smoke wafting from private property toward people on public property was not a major concern of Aspen city officials in the run-up to the pot-ordinance approval, Bendon said.
“We didn’t take the bait on (pot smoke) drifting over to your neighbor and driving them crazy,” he said. “It’s funny how different communities are responding to this; every one seems to be responding in a different way. It’s maybe a reflection of their own community outlook on things.”
Those who rent property or own employee-housing units in densely populated complexes should check with their landlords or homeowner associations to see if rules prohibit open pot-smoking, local officials suggested. The same goes for visitors staying in local hotels — check with the front-desk agent or concierge. It’s probable that the rules governing tobacco-smoking in affordable-housing developments and lodges would similarly be applied.
Aspen officials hope that marijuana-tokers will use common sense when lighting up on private property that’s close to people using public spaces and thoroughfares. That means using proper discretion: Don’t blow your smoke toward others, especially kids, and don’t bother people with your THC-induced antics.
“It’s maybe a neighbor-to-neighbor conversation,” Bendon said. “If your dog runs over and (defecates) on somebody’s lawn, or if your barbecue smoke is driving them nuts, or if you’re playing music that’s too loud, you probably need to have a conversation. The city doesn’t need to build a wall around each one of those situations. So I think we took that perspective and tried to keep in mind that if (the marijuana rules) seem to be working well (as with) the liquor code, then that should be our model and our game plan.”
Assistant City Attorney Debbie Quinn, who created the new rules with the Community Development Department, said a lot of time was spent on the “openly and publicly” provisions of the regulations in order to ensure that pot-users aren’t lighting up all over town, such as the downtown pedestrian malls during the busy summer and winter tourist seasons.
“The law just says that it is unlawful to consume ‘openly and publicly.’ … You might be doing it openly but on your private property, and that’s not ‘openly and publicly’ consuming, that’s only ‘openly’ consuming, and we don’t specifically prohibit that,” she said. “If you were in your yard with a joint and walked onto the sidewalk, once you are on the sidewalk you are ‘openly and publicly’ consuming.”
According to a story in The Denver Post, the Denver City Council recently considered laws forbidding people from smoking marijuana in their homes if the activity was visible from public areas. The laws also would have prohibited pot-smoking inside a fenced-in backyard if the smoke could be smelled by a neighbor.
After some discussion, a majority of council members decided such regulations would be an overreach, but there still are some who are concerned about “open and private” consumption around children.