Marijuana clubs in Aspen? It might be awhile | AspenTimes.com

Marijuana clubs in Aspen? It might be awhile

Partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve invite-only party in Denver on Dec. 31, 2013.

All stocked up and no place to smoke?

Seven stores in Aspen sell legal recreational marijuana and an eighth one is coming soon, but cannabis can't be legally consumed other than in private residences, presenting a paradox of sorts for city leaders.

"We allow the sale of it, but the consumption of it, we force people to break the law," City Councilman Ward Hauenstein said at a Tuesday work session with the Local Licensing Authority, a five-member, one-alternate board that reviews liquor and alcohol license applications for approval.

The subject is hardly new, but pot clubs and social-consumption areas are coming, like it or not, said Bryan Semel, a member of the LLA.

He urged council to consider opening a discussion to the possibilities of having designated smoking areas or clubs in Aspen, similar to what Denver is doing after voters there passed a permit-program ordinance in 2016. As it stands, visitors are confused by the muddy marijuana laws, and would-be pot clubs are turned away.

"We don't want to be the person with their arms crossed," Semel said, explaining that Aspen prides itself on being progressive but appears reticent to address pot clubs or public-consumption areas.

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"That's one perspective," said Mayor Steve Skadron, noting "there's a whole segment of the community that would not want these clubs and not have marijuana shops at all."

Denver now allows designated consumption areas, but they come with restrictions — cannabis intake is limited to vaporizers, dabbing and edibles only, while users, who must be at least 21, bring their own products, which are prohibited from being sold on the premises. Alcohol cannot be sold or consumed on site, and the state's Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act also bans indoor smoking in public buildings.

The state Legislature also passed a law allowing pot dispensaries to have tasting rooms, but Gov. John Hickenloooper vetoed it in June.

The mayor and City Council members didn't reach a consensus on where the conversation is going; they mainly gauged feedback on the matter from LLA members and City Clerk Linda Manning.

Hauenstein agreed with Semel that the city should track Denver's progress with designated spots for pot use.

If Aspen allowed pot clubs or designated consumption areas, the operators would likely face financial challenges because of the high cost of doing business here, LLA member Phil Golden said.

"Surviving on a door fee to consume a product, I'm not sure how that will work in the Aspen market," he said.

As for now, users will find other ways to partake in public, whether it's firing up a bowl or joint in the downtown alleys, as Semel pointed out, or by using odorless vaporizers or ingesting cannabis-infused edibles.

Whatever the case, the illegal use of cannabis in public sends a negative message to visitors, the community and especially children, Semel said.

"The part I don't like is a kid saying to his parents, 'Where's that, where's that skunk?' … Those kids should experience life before getting a contact high," Semel said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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