VAIL — Passengers departing the Eagle Bahn gondola were greeted with a surprise Thursday as Forest Service officials were on hand issuing citations to pot smokers.
Following those tickets were 30-day pass suspensions issued by the resort, enough to put an end to the 2013-14 season at Vail, which wraps up April 20.
“United States Forest Service law enforcement has been on site a few times (this season),” said Liz Biebl, a spokesperson for Vail Mountain. “We have been collaborating with them and suspending passes when they ticket people, including today.”
The tickets issued by the Forest Service are class-B misdemeanors, resulting in $250 fines with no court appearance necessary. The Forest Service said Vail Mountain called them in to follow up on feedback the resort has been receiving.
‘This is a Smoking Car’
“They’ve been receiving multiple complaints from some of their guests about people regularly arriving to ride the Lionshead gondola and fairly blatantly stating that this is a smoking car and you can only ride in this if you’re OK being in a smoking car,” said Dave Neely, district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. “Some of those guests ... complained to Vail management and Vail said that’s totally inappropriate, relayed the information to us and we said we’d be glad to help you out with that.”
Neely said in cases like Thursday’s, the Forest Service has a duty to uphold laws that are being broken which they are made aware of, but seeking out pot smokers on Forest Service land is not a primary concern of the Forest Service at this point in time.
“We have officers whose sole job is law enforcement, but in (the Holy Cross Ranger District) we have one enforcement officer for 655,000 acres, and his responsibility is to enforce all of our regulations,” Neely said. “There’s always something going on on National Forest lands somewhere, whether it’s a motor vehicle violation, illegal tree cutting or any number of things. Marijuana enforcement is just one of the items those guys are looking at, and here you have people blatantly, and repeatedly, smoking marijuana on a gondola, talking to other guests and being very obvious about it ... sufficient enough that guests are taking the time to write letters.”
While recreational use of marijuana is now legal in private residences in Colorado, it remains illegal in public and on Forest Service land, which includes all of Vail and Beaver Creek resorts.
“There’s always something going on on National Forest lands somewhere, whether it’s a motor vehicle violation, illegal tree cutting or any number of things. Marijuana enforcement is just one of the items those guys are looking at, and here you have people blatantly, and repeatedly, smoking marijuana on a gondola.”
District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service