Aspen makes way for recreational marijuana

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation that will make way for the sale of recreational marijuana in town.

Colorado’s prohibition rate on the issue is 53 percent, with 77 municipalities voting “no” on recreational sales and 76 others either undecided or, like Aspen, signing approval. Basalt has called a moratorium on the issue, while Carbondale has passed regulations and Glenwood Springs is in the review process.

In Aspen, the number of recreational marijuana retailers will be capped at the number of existing medical marijuana facilities until Jan. 1, 2015. Because of ambiguity with state law, Aspen also has decided to ban public and private smoke clubs.

“It would be nice to see some kind of non-alcohol-serving places to consume — some kind of coffee-shop atmosphere,” council member Adam Frisch said.

State law does not define the terms “openly” and “publicly,” which has caused Aspen to balk. On top of that, private clubs in Aspen can have an alienating effect, when penthouse owners turn ground-level retail spaces into extensions of their living space, where only their guests are allowed.

Community Development Director Chris Bendon said Aspen’s main concern is not with the penthouses, a problem that can be easily addressed, but rather the “unknown nature of the law and the variable testing period that someone will go through.” In the past, Bendon has recommended that Aspen not be the guinea pig for a new law.

Frisch said in terms of the cap, his preference would be to follow the state, which gives existing medical marijuana facilities a nine-month head start on those who don’t have existing licenses. This is opposed to the 16-month waiting period Aspen approved Tuesday night.

“There’s been questions if there should be a limit at all, and if four or five months into the process, people are waiting an hour and a half at vendors, maybe” the city can reassess the cap, Frisch said. “And if we see 500 applications, we can address that, too.”

Johnny Radding, of Durango Organics, represents one of five marijuana operators trying to get in on the action in Aspen. He has received a business permit from the city, but he has not received a state medical marijuana license to operate in Aspen. He drove from Durango to get clarification on the cap, asking why, if Aspen is following state guidelines on most of the legislation, it does not just honor the nine-month waiting period, as well.

Lauren Maytin, a criminal defense attorney in Aspen who represents multiple marijuana caregivers, growers and retailers, said there’s no need to go beyond what the state is proposing.

“I’ve been on this crusade for a very long time, and I care,” she said. “Aspen is a notorious place for competition. We don’t put caps on anything. We don’t put caps on bars. We don’t put caps on restaurants.”

Concerning the ban on public smoking venues, she said she’d hate to see tourists come to Aspen and find there’s nowhere to smoke without facing fines.

Council member Dwayne Romero said he understands the argument that Aspen should mimic the covenant laid out by the state. He also understands the argument about not interfering with the entrepreneurial process, but he said he’s not swayed by either in the face of such a risky, undefined law.

“Going a little bit slow here is not like we’re saying, ‘Let’s forbid it forever,’” Romero said. “I’m comfortable with the pace being offered tonight.”

Mayor Steve Skadron agreed with Romero, and he presented a challenge to Maytin, saying Aspen does cap certain things. Height limits, affordable housing and the number of events allowed in town were a few that he named.

“OK you are correct,” Maytin responded, drawing laughter from the room. “Aspen is notorious for capping things.”

The council voted 4-0 on two ordinances associated with the sale of recreational marijuana. Council member Art Daily recused himself because his son-in-law is an investor for a local marijuana operation.


The council approved on first reading the St. Regis Aspen Resort’s request to close during portions of the offseason. Citing low occupancy rates, lost wages for employees and maintenance needs, the hotel has requested two- to four-week closures during future offseasons in the spring and fall.

Daily asked for an explanation of the original intent of the city’s requirement of the hotel to remain open year-round. Alan Richman, representing the hotel, said it was planning and zoning commissioners’ hope, years ago, that a hotel remaining open might generate business. Their idea was that Aspen might draw some crowds that aren’t typical in the offseason, like business conferences.

“That experience hasn’t happened,” Richman said, adding that the hotel would like to stay open but that it’s not entirely logical. He said it’s possible, if the demand is there in the spring and the fall, that the hotel will remain open.

Skadron requested, for second reading, comment from Sky Hotel general manager Corey Enloe, who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission, which approved the request, 5-0.

“It suggests a conflict here, as we talk about expanding our seasons and all these events and economic drivers like hotel rooms,” Skadron said. “I want to be certain that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.”