One concern Aspen’s Community Development Department has with the possibility of private marijuana clubs opening is the exposure it could bring to the town’s national and international profile.
Mayor Steve Skadron — who plans to discuss the issue at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board meeting Tuesday — shares that concern.
“I’m concerned about the Aspen brand being identified, at this point, as a haven, or a retreat, for marijuana consumption,” Skadron said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he’d like to see the industry mature more so that he can get a feel for the impact of private pot clubs.
He and Councilman Dwayne Romero both spoke out against such clubs during Monday’s City Council work session, with Romero reminding the room of his opposition to recreational marijuana legalization in the first place.
Silverpeak Apothecary owner Jordan Lewis argued that the council should remain open to the idea because Aspen is not providing any place where tourists can consume marijuana comfortably.
“Perhaps there should be some input from hotel operators and the hospitality industry,” Lewis said, with Skadron responding that he will query hospitality officials at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association meeting.
Council members Art Daily and Ann Mullins did not offer opinions, but Councilman Adam Frisch, who was absent, said Wednesday that he would be open to the possibility of a “marijuana cafe.” He described a setting where food is served and marijuana — not alcohol — consumption is allowed. Members of the marijuana industry have told him that they want to be disassociated with alcohol and its negative effects, he said.
Lauren Maytin, an attorney who represents clients in the local marijuana industry, shared Lewis’ opinion, saying the issue has contributed to another major problem: the overconsumption of edible marijuana products. Edible products don’t involve smoke or strong odors, making it easier to consume in illegal settings.
“(Visitors) buy this product, they go back to the hotel, and the hotel says, ‘No,’” she said. “So where do they go? Do they go in public? As we’ve heard, there’s been an increase of people walking down the street puffing and thereby crop-dusting, so to speak.”
It’s Maytin’s belief that the hospitality industry will show overwhelming support for the idea of private pot clubs.
Even if the council approves private clubs in the future, there are legal hurdles. A memorandum to the council details how Club Ned, located in Nederland, has successfully cleared them.
For one, a smoking club would have to find a way around the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits indoor consumption. Club Ned is exempt because it employs three or fewer workers and it 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.
Another major caveat is that the establishment cannot sell marijuana on the premises. Hypothetically, cannabis could be given away, depending on whether club dues would qualify as compensation for the product.
Finally, the town of Nederland had to amend its land-use code by creating a new use category of “private club,” which specifically included “legal drug use” and set it apart from nonprofits like the Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary and the like.
iBake, a Denver club, provides another example of skirting around the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. It operates as a dual cannabis-tobacco smoking club. Tobacco clubs and cigar rooms are exempt from the act.
Another concern Community Development has is the issue of commercial spaces within buildings that contain free-market residences. If a private club were an allowed commercial use, the owner could turn the space into the penthouse’s extended living room instead of a restaurant or bar.
“This is an extreme example, but staff believes the market motivation is such to produce this result,” the memo states. “This is likely a resolvable issue with the right set of requirements and/or amendments to the land-use code.”
Frisch said he appreciates the concern, but like the memo said, it’s an issue that most likely can be worked around.
“I don’t think that should be the deal-breaker,” he said.