Aspen airport pot boxes stinky but effective
Aspen’s airport director was walking through the terminal just before Christmas when a distinctive fragrance in the air made him stop.
“It wasn’t a pleasant smell,” John Kinney said. “One of the employees was walking by and I said, ‘Do you smell that?’”
The employee apparently identified one of the marijuana amnesty boxes in the ticketing area as the odor’s likely source. Soon after, Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan, who is often tasked with emptying the boxes, received a call from the airport.
“Someone had dropped some extra-pungent (marijuana) flower in there, apparently,” Ryan said. “We don’t want it to get to the point where our airport smells like weed.”
The Valley Marijuana Council, which advocates for responsible marijuana use and policies in the Roaring Fork Valley, came up with the idea of the amnesty box, and the Sheriff’s Office helped usher it into existence within six months of the Jan. 1, 2014, commercial legalization date, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said.
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport was the first airport in the state to establish an amnesty box, though the Colorado Springs airport has since followed suit.
The airport began with one amnesty box and now has three sprinkled throughout the terminal, Ryan said. They are about 3-feet tall and resemble a library book drop-off box or a corner mailbox, he said.
“I’m really proud of the Valley Marijuana Council for coming up with this idea,” said DiSalvo, who co-founded the group. “Some people may think they can fly with (marijuana), then see the amnesty box and think better of it.”
The boxes allow people to safely dispose of unused marijuana or marijuana products before they fly home without allowing children or anyone else to gain access to it, Ryan and DiSalvo said.
How frequently the boxes are emptied depends on the season, said Ryan and Kinney. During busy seasons, it can be as often as every couple of weeks, while the usual is about every month or two, Ryan said. And pot is not the only thing that gets deposited in the boxes.
“People put trash and dirty diapers in there,” Kinney said. “When the officer goes to open it up, it can be a memorable first breath.”
Still, Kinney said he thinks the amnesty boxes are a good idea.
“I think they’re effective,” he said. “They speed up lines for (Transportation Safety Authority).”
The Christmas cache still hadn’t been destroyed earlier this week, so Ryan was able to show exactly the sort of items that end up in the boxes. The stash included several pipes containing charred marijuana, numerous plastic tubes with and without the joints that originally were inside them, candies, cookies, a grinder, a scale and lots of prescription-type bottles containing marijuana. At least one plastic jar of cookies was unopened.
“This says to me that recreational sales are booming in this city,” Ryan said. “A lot of our visitors are buying it.”
Legal pot sales within city limits totaled $8.35 million in 2015, according to Aspen’s Finance Department.
DiSalvo and Ryan both said they were surprised at some of the large amounts and unopened containers left behind. Both said they believe tourists often over-purchase marijuana and marijuana products when they visit Aspen dispensaries.
“Like, people that are staying a day or two and they buy an ounce,” DiSalvo said.
Ryan said the large amounts left behind in the amnesty boxes concern him because equal amounts may be left in hotel rooms. However, DiSalvo said he’s not particularly concerned about that issue because the Valley Marijuana Council has specifically targeted hotels with an awareness campaign in English and Spanish warning that abandoned candy may contain marijuana.
The outreach was prompted by a report of a housekeeper at a local hotel giving a child marijuana candy she found in a room, DiSalvo said.
The amnesty boxes also have spawned a cousin drop-off box located in the Sheriff’s Department office at the Pitkin County Courthouse, where people can deposit unwanted prescription and non-prescription medication. It’s the only permanent medication drop-off box in the Aspen area, DiSalvo said.
“It’s no questions asked,” the sheriff said. “And it’s better than (flushing meds down) the toilet.”
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