City of Aspen: No current plants to revisit private marijuana club idea |

City of Aspen: No current plants to revisit private marijuana club idea

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Legalized marijuana has evolved from "no way" to "OK" over the past few decades.
Photo: The Associated Press | AP

Despite a perceived need for social spaces dedicated to marijuana consumption, Aspen officials currently have no plans of revisiting the idea of allowing private smoke clubs in town, an official said this week.

When the idea was floated to the Aspen City Council in July, Aspen’s Community Development Department raised concerns about the exposure such clubs could bring to the town’s international profile. Officials also argued that Aspen should refrain from serving as a guinea pig, especially given the state law’s ambiguity when it comes to private smoking venues.

“We’re waiting and seeing what develops in other areas of the state before we embark on anything,” Assistant City Attorney Debbie Quinn said Tuesday, adding that there have been no recent inquiries about the concept.

Ron Radtke, owner of Aspen Green Dragon, one of six recreational pot shops in town, said the city has handled the issue correctly, though he would be interested if the city changed its stance.

“If you try to hurry the damn thing, then you get nothing but problems and issues,” Radtke said Tuesday. “You need to wait the entire season. After April have a little work (session) and see how it would work, where it would work.”

Leaf Aspen dispensary co-owner Jesse Miller said he sat down with Quinn and City Clerk Linda Manning in the fall of 2013, when the city’s opinion on private venues was explained. He said he was told that these venues present a smoking issue, among other problems.

Legal hurdles for such clubs include the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits indoor consumption. However, venues like Nederland’s Club Ned and Denver’s iBake have skirted around the law. Club Ned is exempt because it employs three or fewer workers and is off-limits to the public. To maintain its private status, a significant amount of the club’s revenue must come from membership dues, and it must be selective when admitting members. iBake operates as a dual cannabis-tobacco smoking club, and tobacco rooms are exempt from the act.

Miller said Tuesday that if the Cigar Bar, a tobacco-smoking venue that also serves alcohol, can operate, surely a private pot club is feasible. However, it would be Miller’s preference that cannabis offerings remain separate from alcohol. He said liquor involves heightened risks that cannabis does not, adding that any potential venue also should remain separate from cannabis sales.

Councilman Adam Frisch, who has stated in the past that he is open to private smoking venues, agreed that such clubs should remain separate from alcohol. Whether it’s turning a coffee shop, bakery or eatery into a cannabis venue, he said he remains receptive.

“I still feel that it would be nice if there was some type of social venue in town for people to go and hang out and use cannabis if they want,” Frisch said Friday.

Echoing a previous argument on the issue, Miller said if Aspen’s hotels continue to maintain no-smoking policies, the town needs to provide a social atmosphere where tourists can smoke.

“I don’t expect to see a lot of locals going into a location like that,” Miller said. “It’s about the tourists. Every day that I’m bud-tending I get asked four or five times, ‘Where is it okay for us to smoke this?’ … They need a place to go. Let’s face it: Cannabis, for a lot of people, is a very social thing.”

Most Aspen hotels do not tolerate smoking, either with tobacco or marijuana products. Aspen Square Hotel General Manager Warren Klug said his lodge maintains a strict stance on the issue.

“It’s already illegal to smoke in public areas, like a restaurant or bar,” Klug said Tuesday. “We don’t allow smoking at all, so it’s really limited in terms of where they can legally smoke. We do have a strict no-smoking policy, and we try very hard to enforce it.”

Reflecting on a year since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sales, Community Development Director Chris Bendon described the city’s interaction with its marijuana dispensers as “mellow.” There have been no complaints about business operations or the amount of shops in town, he said, describing applicants as professional, respectful and well-versed with the law.

“It went about as smoothly as we could have hoped for,” he said regarding the first 10 months since Aspen’s first recreational shop, Silverpeak Apothecary, opened. “No surprises. No weird wrinkles. Folks have been applying and having their request reviewed and obtaining their licenses as expected.”