Basalt will ease up on pot shop location restrictions

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Pete Tramm, a partner in Roots RX, Basalt's first and only retail pot shop, opened the store in 2014. The Basalt Town Council directed the staff Tuesday to look into revamping the restrictions on pot shop locations.
Aspen Times file photo | Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

The Basalt Town Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to direct its staff to look into reconsidering where marijuana shops can be located after the town manager said the current regulations are “too rigid.”

The council majority said they prefer treating pot shops like liquor stores, allowing them to operate in the main commercial zone.

“I’m on board with keep it the same as liquor licenses,” said Councilman Mark Kittle.

Councilman Auden Schendler concurred, though he said he understands the opposition.

“I totally understand the person who says, ‘I don’t want to see a pot shop when I first come into town.’”

However, with the passage of time that marijuana is legal in Colorado, the location of pot shops won’t be as big of an issue, he indicated. It’s an issue of “modernity and change,” according to Schendler.

Even if the regulations are changed in Basalt, there are still regulations that create a buffer that prohibits pot shops in close proximity to schools.

Pot shops will bring a certain degree of vitality to Basalt and help the town capture sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to neighboring towns, Schendler added.

Councilwomen Jennifer Riffle and Katie Schwoerer opposed expanding regulations on where pot shops can locate. Riffle said there are ample opportunities for pot shops to open now. In addition, she said, Basalt must consider the message it would send to families and children by making it easier for pot shops to open.

She said marijuana being sold is significantly stronger that what was available before legalization. “This isn’t the ditch weed we used to smoke,” she said.

Councilman Bernie Grauer quickly countered with an objection that allowing pot shops sends a poor message. He said he knows people “from all walks of life” that enjoy drinking alcohol and using marijuana responsibly in their homes.

“They are a cross-section of us,” he said.

Schwoerer said she wasn’t making a comment on or judgment of marijuana users, but she doesn’t believe the town needs to make it easier for pot shops to open.

Basalt was slow to craft its marijuana regulations after Colorado voters approved recreational sales of marijuana for customers 21 and older in November 2012. The town has one recreational pot shop, Roots RX. Town Manager Mike Scanlon said eight interested parties are on a waiting list to apply for licenses, but they haven’t been able to find locations that meet the town’s criteria.

In a memo to the council, Scanlon wrote, “What is clear now is that our zoning restrictions when overlaid with our current buffering requirements makes it almost impossible to locate a marijuana business in our community. Was that our intent?”

The current situation creates a “virtual moratorium on marijuana businesses in Basalt,” Scanlon’s memo continued.

A businessman who has an option to buy commercial property in Basalt sparked the reconsideration of the policy.

The direction to consider the change to the town’s regulations on where pot shops can locate was supported by Kittle, Schendler, Grauer, Councilman Gary Tennenbaum and Mayor Jacque Whitsitt. Schwoerer and Riffle opposed it.

The resolution also says Basalt will allow four marijuana licenses rather than designating two for recreational shops and two for medical marijuana.