Marijuana clubs back on Aspen government’s radar

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley In this Dec. 31, 2013 Associated Press file photo, partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve invite-only party celebrating the start of retail pot sales, at a bar in Denver. Colorado is on the brink of becoming the first state with licensed pot clubs.

Aspen city leaders could give private pot clubs another whiff of consideration, but they first want to see how regulations are addressed by Denver and the state of Colorado.

“I’m open to having the conversation,” Mayor Steve Skadron said Monday, noting he is watching the state capital to see if it creates any regulatory model for private cannabis clubs that Aspen could mimic.

“I know Denver is making some progress on bring-your-own pot clubs, and perhaps that could weigh into our conversation,” he said.

The Aspen City Council decided in 2015 not to allow private pot clubs, chiefly because of ambiguity in state law concerning private smoking venues along with worries about how they could negatively affect Aspen’s image.

The city code prohibits the “operation of any public or private club or business allowing the consumption of marijuana on the premises.” Retail marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012 with Amendment 64, which also makes it illegal to consume cannabis in public.

The consumption restrictions put cannabis consumers, particularly visitors, in a confusing position if they want to legally get high in a city that boasts eight marijuana dispensaries, Freddie Wyatt of Denver-based Munch & Co., which produces marijuana-friendly events, told City Council at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Using special permits at private locations, Munch & Co. has held three events in Aspen during the past three Winter X Games in which attendees could openly and legally consume marijuana.

Wyatt urged city lawmakers to repeal the Aspen law that prohibits pot clubs.

“Aspen would be able to offer a club with a safe, comfortable and reasonable environment for its residents and visitors,” he said.

According to The Associated Press, Denver officials are working on regulations to open a one-year pilot of bring-your-own marijuana clubs, while state lawmakers are expected to consider measures to allow either marijuana “tasting rooms” run by marijuana dispensaries, or smoke-friendly clubs akin to cigar bars.

Alaska regulators, spooked by how the Trump administration might view marijuana, recently decided not to move forward with rules for use of marijuana at authorized stores, though the issue there isn’t dead.

California and Maine voters expressly signed off on public marijuana consumption but haven’t settled on rules. Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation to allow marijuana use at special events like concerts and in cannabis lounges. But Colorado may be first out of the gate with statewide pot-club regulations, possibly by this summer.

The city of Aspen prohibits marijuana “possession, use or consumption openly and public by any person,” with first-time offenders facing a $100 fine.

Wyatt, in a separate interview Friday with The Aspen Times, said he envisions running a pot club in Aspen where guests would bring their own marijuana. Pot would not be sold on the premises, but the club would generate revenue through memberships, food sales and special events, he said.

“What we are doing is giving you a safe place to do this,” he said.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s website suggests that people use marijuana at their home, friends’ homes or on private property.

“Aspen hotels are non-smoking — if you’re visiting from out of town, make friends with locals,” the site says, adding that more questions about pot use can be answered by hotel or rental management companies.

“That just seems like a little bit of a deferral,” Wyatt told the council. “We all know the hotels are going to tell them ‘no.’”

Wyatt has approached the council before about the same issue. In January 2016, he told the council: “I’d like you to do some due diligence of how we can get cannabis in Aspen in a safe environment, just like we do with alcohol being regulated.”

That effort didn’t gain any momentum. This time around, however, Skadron said he is working with Wyatt and City Manager Barry Crook to bring the matter to a public meeting some time later this year once Denver and the state’s measures take form.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.