Editorial: Open market is best for Aspen pot shops
September 20, 2013
With all due respect to the hard work and thoughtfulness that have gone into the city of Aspen's plan for licensing recreational marijuana retail shops, we have to cry foul on its so-called conservative approach to the issue.
The city's current plan calls for limiting, at least initially, the number of recreational outlets to the number of established medical pot shops that are licensed to do business within the city by Oct. 1. Currently, that number stands at three, but at least two other entities have applied for licenses to sell the medical product in Aspen, with hopes of getting in under that deadline so that they can sell to recreational users, as well.
Not to harsh the city's mellow, but the upcoming cap — whether three or five or even more — reeks of unfairness and runs counter to the spirit of the Amendment 64 referendum that a vast majority of state, Pitkin County and Aspen voters approved in November.
That referendum calls for marijuana to be regulated "like alcohol." And based on previous statements from city officials, the intent of the local regulations was to regulate the recreational marijuana industry in much the same manner as the alcoholic-beverage industry.
Local attorney Jeff Wertz, a member of Aspen's Liquor License Authority board, served as a voice of common sense during comments the City Council accepted at a work session Monday. He said that the city doesn't place a cap on the number of liquor licenses it can issue, and therefore shouldn't do it with recreational pot shops.
It's that simple, and if council members want to abide by the wishes of the electorate, they will come to that realization before they create and enact local ordinances addressing the matter. The argument that outside operators "might not have the same level of respect" for local laws (the quote can be attributed to Community Development Director Chris Bendon, a typically fair-minded community planner) as the medical marijuana sellers who have been doing business in the city for the past couple of years is moot; if a Denver real estate developer with no track record in Aspen wanted to propose a new lodging project for Aspen, would that outsider be handled with the same sort of skepticism? Doubtful.
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We're not exactly sure why this cautious approach is the favored route of city staff and some council members. Perhaps they are afraid that the town will be overrun by pot lovers, turning the community into an American version of Amsterdam. Perhaps they fear the effects of a wide-open market, such as closures that result from competition. Or maybe the stigma of being a marijuana-happy city is too much for some of our leaders to stomach in that it might overshadow the city's other tourism-marketing efforts (Aspen as the ski capital of North America, Aspen as a bicycle-centric community, Aspen as family-friendly, etc.).
The town of Snowmass Village is considering a temporary moratorium on shops that would sell marijuana for recreational and medical uses. It was thought that the town would put off writing rules on how to deal with the industries since Related Colorado, which owns most of the commercial space there, has said it wouldn't lease space to pot businesses. To us, it seems that this and examples of other Colorado communities taking a restrictive stance give Aspen added incentive to embrace the new businesses and set itself apart as a progressive leader on the issue. And as we have witnessed countless times, setting itself apart is something the city usually is wont to do.
Another discussion on the recreational marijuana rules is set for Monday at the City Council's regular meeting. We'd like to see council members voice frank and direct thoughts on the matter — at this point, it's a bit hard to tell exactly where everybody stands, which is understandable given the newness of the issue — as well as face up to the fact that the will of the voters was solidly in support of regulating marijuana like alcohol. That single point ought to outweigh all other concerns.