New pot issues on NORML’s front burner for Aspen conference

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Different issues will be on the front burner when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws returns to Aspen for a legal seminar in May.

NORML has held a spring conference in Aspen for about 12 consecutive years. It’s not ready to abandon the town now that marijuana has been legalized for adults in Colorado, said Executive Director Allen St. Pierre.

“In Colorado, the discussion is a forward-looking one,” he said.

NORML’s Aspen conference will be held at The Gant May 29 through 31. Many of the topics have special relevance in a state with legal marijuana — such as the science and law surrounding driving under the influence of cannabis; challenging profile stops of drivers by law enforcement officials; and legal marijuana and employment issues, according to the program.

“In Colorado, the discussion is a forward looking one.”
Allen St. Pierre
NORML executive director

Legalization has opened a whole new world of issues for the legal seminars. This year’s topics are geared toward “lawyers at the vanguard of the new legal system,” St. Pierre said.

Most seminars in the past have focused on topics designed to help lawyers minimize the legal consequences for clients charged with marijuana law violations.

“Most of the time you’re a criminal defense lawyer, your client loses,” St. Pierre said.

Now, marijuana is not only legal in Colorado, but it’s a major revenue generator, he noted. Sales tax collections were higher than anticipated during the first two months of legal sales.

Issues have popped up in the past two or three years — with a growing number of states approving medical marijuana sales, and Colorado and Washington voters approving retail marijuana sales — that NORML staff couldn’t have imagined in the prior three decades, St. Pierre said.

NORML’s Aspen legal seminar isn’t just drawing interest from Colorado attorneys dealing with new issues raised by legalization. There is significant interest from lawyers in “states that are flipping” or moving from prohibitions on all sales to allowing sales of medical marijuana, according to St. Pierre. Several New England states — Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut — are moving to legalizing medical marijuana. Attorneys see a need to get up to speed on topics that the Aspen seminar is delving into, he said.

Advance reservations are up about 30 percent over last year for the Aspen legal seminar, St. Pierre said. He anticipates final reservations to be about 25 to 30 percent higher than last year. About 130 to 140 participants and NORML staff will be attending.

Some of the proprietors of Aspen’s recreational pot shops have extended invitations to NOMRL to have seminar attendees make an official visit, according to St. Pierre. It’s sort of like a “chamber of commerce” pitch to what’s seen as a group of core customers, he said.

Social events include a benefit dinner at the home of Gerry Goldstein, a part-time Aspen resident and a speaker at the seminar, and a cookout at Hunter S. Thompson’s Owl Farm. Thompson was a NORML supporter and member of its advisory board since 1973 until he died in 2005.

NORML attendees have never been shy about indulging their passions at past seminars, St. Pierre said, but it will be a cause for celebration this year to do it legally. It won’t be lost on some of the attending attorneys that they are indulging in a legal activity while some of their clients are “rotting in cages” after convictions of non-violent marijuana laws in other states, he said.

NORML founder and legal counsel Keith Stroup wrote an email urging the organization’s supporters to attend the Aspen Legal Seminar to learn about the new issues and have fun.

“The 2014 Aspen seminar offers those from out-of-state a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with like-minded friends and colleagues from around the country in a beautiful state that has fully legalized marijuana for all adults, and to witness first-hand the legal dispensaries, several of which are located in Aspen itself,” Stroup wrote. “It is a glimpse into the future of all of America in one of the most picturesque locations in the country.”

More information, along with a link to the online registration, is available at