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Aspen city attorney to seek council direction on pot rules

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

In this Nov. 19, 2012 photo, prepared marijuana is displayed for sale for those who posses a medical marijuana card, inside a dispensary in Nederland. Since the 1970 founding of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, reform efforts had centered on the unfairness of laws to the recreational user. That began to change as doctors noticed marijuana's ability to relieve pain, quell nausea and improve the appetites of cancer and AIDS patients. The conversation shifted in the 1990s toward medical marijuana laws. On Nov. 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington state legalized its recreational use.

Aspen City Attorney Jim True said Wednesday that he soon will suggest that the City Council hold a work session this month or in July on whether and how to regulate recreational pot stores in Aspen.

True said there is no hurry because under state law, businesses cannot apply to become retail pot shops until Oct. 1. The state Department of Revenue is still writing rules based on legislation recently passed by the Colorado General Assembly. Legislators took up a host of marijuana-related issues during their January-to-May session after voters across the state in November passed Amendment 64, which seeks to have marijuana regulated in the same manner as alcohol.

Among other decisions, the Legislature determined that marijuana can be sold only to users 21 or older from specially licensed stores that also will be allowed to sell pot-related items, including pipes. Only residents of the state can own or invest in the stores. Only owners of currently permitted medical marijuana dispensaries can apply to open recreational pot shops for the first nine months, meaning October through June.

Colorado residents will be able to buy as much as an ounce of pot — the maximum amount that non-patients may possess — at the stores. Out-of-staters will be allowed to purchase only a quarter-ounce at a time. Products will be sold in child-resistant packages, and edible pot treats will have serving-size limits.

“I haven’t followed it very closely,” True said. “I know we’re coming up to a time where the city has to react to various things, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. The state regulations have to be in place by July 1, and then depending on what happens there, we have until October in which to take action.”

True said the question he’s still evaluating is twofold.

“One, what do we have to do? Second, what is the level the council would want to do?” he said.

The new City Council and mayor will be sworn in Monday. Councilman Steve Skadron, who won the mayoral runoff Tuesday, will lead three other council members: newcomers Art Daily and Ann Mullins as well as Councilman Adam Frisch, who has two years left on his first council term. The council will have to appoint a fourth council member to fill Skadron’s vacated seat by early July.

Aspen has three medical marijuana dispensaries: Alternative Medical Solutions on South Mill Street and LEAF Aspen and Silverpeak Apothecary, both on East Cooper Avenue. Attempts to obtain comments this week from the local store owners on the new laws and whether they plan to apply for recreational pot retail licenses were unsuccessful. One couldn’t be reached, one said he was too busy to talk, and a sales clerk at the third store said its owners no longer wish to speak to local media.

Municipalities have until Oct. 1 to adopt their own rules for recreational pot shops, according to Brian Vicente, executive director of Denver-based Sensible Colorado, a nine-year-old nonprofit that has been a longtime advocate for medical marijuana patients and also spearheaded the Amendment 64 campaign.

“Oct. 1 will be the first opportunity that the pre-existing medical marijuana stores have to register, letting the state and local governments know they are interested in converting over,” Vicente said. “Then they could be issued licenses (to sell to recreational users) by Jan. 1.”

New retail operations — those that aren’t currently involved in the medical product — probably won’t be able to obtain a state license until late 2014, Vicente said.

“I think the premise was that the existing shops have been time-tested and have shown that they have the ability to sell this product,” he said. “They’ve gone through all the background checks. We trust them to be able to sell this product to sick people, so they might as well be the first ones allowed into this new market.”

State lawmakers also decided to give voters the option of imposing heavy taxes on pot sales. A ballot measure set for November will ask the state electorate whether to approve a 15 percent excise tax and an initial 10 percent sales tax on marijuana.

The excise tax would fund school construction; the sales tax would pay for regulation of marijuana stores.

And lawmakers determined that Colorado drivers will be subject to a stoned-driving limit. Juries will be allowed to presume that those who test above the limit are too high to drive.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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