Pitkin Commissioner George Newman holds line with retail marijuana regulations | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin Commissioner George Newman holds line with retail marijuana regulations

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

George Newman

Some call him the voice of reason, while others call him plain unreasonable.

As a Pitkin County commissioner, George Newman is expected to voice his opinions and vote on issues with his constituents in mind, no matter what people call him.

One of the biggest issues the county has faced in recent times is putting together rules and regulations concerning the growing, selling, manufacturing and testing of marijuana for recreational use.

Throughout the process, Newman has stood strong as the lone voice urging a slow, cautious approach to implementing recreational-use marijuana in Pitkin County.

When it comes to voting on the regulations, Newman has been the consistent "no" vote, which isn't popular with many who want to see recreational marijuana as soon as possible.

He's voted against approving every regulation so far.

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"My whole approach to retail marijuana really isn't per se a very prudent or conservative point of view," Newman said. "It's more in terms of what I believe is our charge as an elected official for the community, which to me is to protect and enhance the health, safety and welfare of our citizens."

Newman, 61, grew up outside New York City where marijuana was, in his words, an unknown entity. His first exposure to marijuana came when he attended the University of New Hampshire and the University of Colorado at Denver, where he earned his master's degree in public administration.

But that was nothing compared with the pot culture he experienced when he came to Aspen in the early 1970s.

"Aspen was a great party town and still is," Newman said. "Back in the early '70s, pot was prevalent, and the local law enforcement took a laissez-faire approach to it. I don't know if you can say it was acceptable, but it was Aspen, and it was all about drugs, rock 'n' roll and, of course, skiing. The music scene was tremendous back then, and it just sort of went along with that culture."

Add 40 years to the calendar, and the whole Aspen scene hasn't changed that much. It's still considered a party town, and marijuana is still here, albeit much more visible with the addition of medical marijuana outlets.

Newman is well aware that the state of Colorado and the people of Pitkin County voted for the legalization of marijuana, which in his opinion is fine. His take is that the vote was more for the understanding that marijuana should be decriminalized, that the war on drugs wasn't working and that imprisoning people for smoking a joint wasn't the right answer.

"I don't believe the citizens voted to also allow cultivation farms to crop up adjacent to their homes and properties," he said. "It's more a land-use issue, as much as anything, for me."