Colorado’s cannabis industry has fallen on hard times. What does the future hold?
The heyday of marijuana sales in Colorado – back in 2020 when recreational and medical sales topped out at a combined $226 million – is a distant memory, as the state’s dispensaries struggle through an economic downturn, with sales plummeting and small businesses foundering.
“The market’s just bad. It’s bad right now,” said 29-year-old Val Tonazzi, who works in cannabis sales. “There’s businesses closing, left and right.”
In March, Colorado’s total medical marijuana sales were about $17 million – around $5 million less than last March. Retail marijuana sales racked up to $122 million, but that’s still a $17 million drop from March 2022.
It’s an improved outlook from February when medical marijuana sales dipped to their lowest point since retail sales began – around $15 million. And sales for both recreational and medical weed totaled to over $139 million, which is the highest it’s climbed to since last October.
But times have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic – now officially over – which gave the cannabis industry a boost as customers stocked up on edibles and joints to enjoy under lockdown.
High Country: Cannabis-friendly weddings are trending
Believe it or not, I still have yet to attend an official cannabis wedding — one where the couple consciously plans their event to incorporate a different kind of flower into the celebration. I have, however, partaken in plenty of secret smoke sessions with fellow cannabis- friendly guests that usually involve sneaking off somewhere out of sight.
The term “cannabis wedding” surfaced early on in the post- legalization era with the launch of the Cannabis Wedding Expo (CWE) in 2015. Co-founded by Colorado-based cannabis hospitality pioneer Philip Wolf, CWE kicked off its business-to-consumer showcase in Denver and has expanded over the past six years to also include annual events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston and Toronto.
CANNABIS WEDDING EXPO
Scenes from the last Cannabis Wedding Expo on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 in San Francisco. | Courtesy Cannabis Wedding Expo
*Dates for San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto are TBA.
As the first-of-its-kind convention dedicated to cannabis weddings, CWE offers an all-encompassing environment for cannabis-centric couples, event producers and industry professionals to discover how to elegantly plan nuptials around a love for the plant.
With a busier-than-ever return of summer weddings, I set out to inquire if any area wedding planners had ever received requests from couples who wanted cannabis to be a part of their big day and how they included it into the ceremony and/or soirée. A polite “no” from each of Aspen’s powerhouse party producers in at EKS Events, Bluebird Productions, Gold Leaf Events and J.Lemons Events genuinely surprised me.
“We’ve never been asked to do one, so we’ve never planned (around) cannabis,” shared EKS Events owner and founder Elizabeth Slossberg. “But we are obviously open to it — we would be happy to explore anything unique, unusual and special for our brides and grooms as long as it’s legal, of course.”
Despite the legality of cannabis in Colorado since 2014, little progress has been made when it comes to legislation surrounding social use (plus, it’s illegal to consume in public in Pitkin County), so finding a venue that allows it is a challenge. As with any cannabis-friendly event (think unaffiliated festivities during X Games and Food & Wine), the standard workaround is through a full buyout or by booking a private home.
“When cannabis is legalized federally, we will obviously see an even bigger boom in cannabis weddings because every state — depending on the state’s adaptation of the laws — will suddenly be open to them,” explained Wolf, who secured The Knot as a CWE sponsor in 2020. “One barrier that will be broken down and will accelerate this trend is that venues will (have to be) OK with permitting cannabis on site. But until then, even in legal states, venues are hesitant to allow cannabis because of federal law and strict insurance policies.”
I was able to track down one event planner who does have experience in planning cannabis events. Allison Welch, principal of As You Wish Colorado, works with “canna couples” to incorporate everything from weed bars to curated cannabis gift bags to bud bouquets into destination wedding weekends.
Scenes from the last Cannabis Wedding Expo on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in San Francisco. | Courtesy Cannabis Wedding Expo
As You Wish Colorado principal Allison Welch shares her top three tips to keep in mind when planning a cannabis-friendly wedding of your own. To learn more about the services her company offers (including personal assistant and concierge programs) visit, asyouwishcolorado.com (@asyouwishco).
1.Hire a professional “budtender” and have them prepared to explain what is offered and the amounts of THC that is acceptable. Our weddings in Colorado are often considered “destination weddings,” so educating your guests will keep them the safest and reduce the risk of anyone over-consuming.
2.Incorporate the plant itself as décor and even in attire (i.e. groomsmen can add a bud or two to their boutonnieres, have the florist work with pot leaves for bouquets or even tablescapes). Create a dedicated consumption lounge with clear signage and offer joint bowls and ashtrays with custom lighters or matches.
3.Confirm everything with your venue far in advance and be sure to designate the consumption lounge in an outdoor area … not all your guests will want to partake or inhale secondhand smoke!
Her Denver-based company, the preferred wedding planner for the Viceroy Snowmass, among other local partners, has planned close to a dozen cannabis-friendly events across the state so far.
“It’s much more of a commonality than I ever thought it would be,” said Welch, who includes cannabis on her standard checklist of vendor offerings for new clients. “I classify it as entertainment, like a photo booth or cigar rolling station — instead maybe it’s for joints. And I would say (cannabis) is a much better alternative for a lot of people than doing shots all night at a wedding at elevation, which can clearly cause quite the hangover the next day. It’s very exciting to see (cannabis) becoming normalized.”
Welch also credits cannabis for contributing to “a more chill, laid-back vibe” compared to only offering alcohol. As legalization and acceptance spreads, it’s inevitable that a cannabis bar will become just as commonplace as an open bar with a curated selection of pre-rolls, edibles and disposable vaporizers.
“One of the biggest evolutions I’ve seen over the past six years is the beautification of the plant and consumption methods,” Wolf added. “The rise of cannabis beverages and devices has given people more options that feel approachable for new consumers. Also, artists and brands have done an amazing job creating stunning accouterments, making the pot leaf look more like a high-end fashion statement as opposed to a scary drug, which means having cannabis present at a wedding can be done tastefully and beautifully.”
Katie Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.
Aspen electeds just say no to pushing magic mushrooms for therapy
The majority of Aspen City Council on Monday shot down any notion that the municipal government ought to join the movement to promote psychedelic-assisted therapies as suggested by Councilman Skippy Mesirow.
Specifically, psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in mushrooms, remains a schedule 1 drug by the federal government, and Aspen has no place in attempting to remove that classification, council members agreed during a work session.
“I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge on this one,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, adding it’s for agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Colorado Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to sort out. “I think there could be some beneficial uses for people and I would support allowing such treatments within our community when there have been federal protocols developed and it is a monitored practice in the appropriate safe settings.”
Mesirow first introduced the concept of psychedelic-assisted therapies along with psychotherapy to help with mental health issues, whether it’s suicidal thoughts, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or addiction.
“I brought this forward because our community has had a mental health crisis for a long time,” Mesirow told his fellow council members on Monday, making a case for Aspen to use the world stage and take a leadership role in healing, mental illness and mental health. “We have four X the national suicide rate, we have two to three times the rate of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and COVID has made this stuff worse.”
The use of illicit psychedelics, which also includes MDMA, known as “molly” or “ecstasy,” to treat mental health disorders has been happening for decades and, in some cases, centuries around the world.
In recent years, clinical trials have been launched and proven effective in treating those with mental health and addiction disorders.
“I ended up having several friends whose lives were changed, if not saved, by these therapies and I ended up following their lead and having my own experiences with these therapies that were absolutely life altering,” Mesirow said.
He said he wasn’t interested in decriminalizing psilocybin but wanted the city to champion the movement going forward.
His colleagues agreed that the municipal government has other priorities but encouraged Mesirow to move forward with a working group of those leading the effort.
“I do think this would really be prime for a non-governmental task force,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “I don’t want City Council to be involved in this, but I certainly encourage Skippy’s involvement not as a representative of city government.”
Hauenstein added that the city chooses not to enforce possession of mushrooms, citing only one arrest for possession in the past few years.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed that the city of Aspen is not the entity to promote psychedelic-assisted therapies, although there is optimistic research showing efficacy, yet there are potential risks.
“(I support) reaffirming support for continued research … but in terms of the city taking a firmer stand, I don’t think that is our role or that it would be effective and that staff time should be devoted to going much further than this,” she said.
Voters in the city and county of Denver passed an initiative in in 2019 that revised the municipal code so that the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms of those 21 years or older was the local law enforcement’s lowest priority.
It also prohibited the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms.
Voters also approved allowing a sober sitter or guide on hand to steward a person through their experience, and establish a psilocybin mushroom policy review panel to assess and report on the effects of the ordinance.
Established in 2020, Denver’s Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel as part of Initiative 301 is expected to make recommendations this year on progressive policies to Denver City Council, including the ability to share the drug.
The panel also is expected establish a working group to explore a psilocybin research site for first responders and military veterans struggling with PTSD.
Oakland, California, has enacted similar legislation, and the state of Oregon also has taken measures to create programs to permit health care providers to administer psilocybin.
Aspen Mayor Torre agreed with council members that the city is supportive of ongoing clinical trials monitored by professionals and that they continue to investigate the efficacy of the practice.
“I would really advocate that on the state level,” he said. “This is more of a legal issue than a health issue.”
Colorado reckons with high-potency marijuana and its impact on children
Lafonna Pacheco hardly recognized her daughter, Roxanne Delte, by the time she turned 17.
“It wasn’t just a teenager thing,” Pacheco said. “It was beyond that. She was paranoid, she was oppositional. Something mentally was going on and it was scary because I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
After five stints in rehab, Delte is able to say clearly what was going on: She was consuming too much high-potency cannabis — flower, yes, but also concentrated wax and other products, too — and that was ruining her life. She recalls regularly puking, and how uncomfortably high she would get from the wax in particular.
“I lost glimpses of time,” said Delte, who has not used cannabis for a year. “It completely changed my mental state and my routine.”
“Her friends thought she was smoking something else,” added Pacheco, who lives in Colorado Springs. “She wasn’t on crack, not on meth. The way these marijuana products affected her in her mind and her actions was complete psychosis.”
Such extreme cases are showing up more among Colorado youth, parents and school health professionals say. And people like Pacheco are increasingly pleading with lawmakers to cut off teens’ easy access to cannabis products, as well as asking for more regulation of products like edibles, wax and shatter that contain THC levels that can be dangerous for developing brains.
Their champion in the Colorado Legislature is Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician who has for months been negotiating legislation to limit THC potency. She’s unlikely to succeed in installing any THC caps this year, but said she’s “pretty certain” she’ll introduce a bill with other provisions to more strictly regulate cannabis sales for medical and recreational buyers, with a focus on limiting youth access.
Growing evidence shows high-potency THC products are more likely to bring on or worsen mental health issues in young people. The state’s own reporting says so, and a broader study of 204,000 people ages 10-24 released in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s pediatrics publication found elevated risk of self-harm among young people who misused cannabis.
CDOT partnering with Marijuana Industry Group to present simple message: “I’ll be blunt, don’t drive high”
The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Marijuana Industry Group are collaborating to educate consumers about the risks and cost of cannabis-impaired driving with an in-your-face conversation starter — budtender masks.
In partnership with Native Roots and Lightshade, CDOT and MIG are distributing masks to select dispensaries with the message: “I’ll be blunt, don’t drive high.” The masks are designed to remind the public about staying safe.
“Impaired driving continues to be a top cause of crashes, injuries and fatalities on Colorado’s roadways,” said CDOT Communications Manager Sam Cole in a news announcement. “While alcohol is still the most common impairing substance, recent data shows an increasing number of fatal crashes involving impairment from cannabis. In response, CDOT is building on past successful partnerships with the cannabis industry — we are ramping up our efforts to help the cannabis industry and its customers be better informed about alternatives to driving high.”
The masks are part of a broader industry education effort — CDOT and MIG are also cooperating to distribute a new series of educational materials at dispensaries.
“Colorado’s public safety work has become the model for other states that have legalized cannabis — and the safety of our patients, consumers and communities is extremely important,” said MIG Executive Director Truman Bradley in the announcement.
While no single indicator can fully explain how cannabis consumption impacts road safety, CDOT closely monitors all available data to address impaired driving.
According to Colorado State Patrol arrest data, there was a 6.7% increase in cannabis-only DUI arrests in 2020 compared to 2019. More concerning, there was a 90.1% year-over-year increase in arrests for drivers impaired by cannabis and alcohol, and a 17.1% increase in impaired driving arrests involving cannabis and other substances.
The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes — and who were blood tested — with active Delta-9 THC above the legal limit of 5 nanograms increased from 33 in 2017 to 49 in 2019.
While trace amounts of Delta-9 THC don’t necessarily equate to impairment, the substance is appearing in driver toxicology tests more often. In 2019, of the 416 fatalities where a driver was tested for Delta-9, 25% tested positive — up from 20% in 2016.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analysis of 60 studies concluded that cannabis use impairs the skills connected with the safe driving of a vehicle, such as tracking, muscle coordination, visual functions, and particularly, complex tasks that require multitasking. To view more research from NHTSA and partners, visit feeldifferentdrivedifferent.org/severity-of-impairment.
Through extensive public outreach to Colorado cannabis consumers as part of CDOT’s The Cannabis Conversation, consumers often voiced that industry representatives are among the most trusted messengers for cannabis education.
“Whether choosing alcohol or cannabis, it has never been easier for consumers to make responsible choices and to plan ahead,” said Shannon Fender, director of public affairs for Native Roots. “We’re hopeful our ongoing partnership with CDOT will continue to bring awareness to our customers that driving while impaired on any substance is never acceptable and has serious legal and public safety consequences. We ask all our patients and customers to be thoughtful and responsible members of our shared communities – please never drive high.”
To learn more about CDOT’s new campaign and view creative materials, visit DriveHighDUI.com.
Marijuana farm located south of Gypsum gets approval for 40-acre expansion
A two-acre marijuana cultivation and processing operation located approximately 12 miles south of Gypsum is poised to get a lot larger after netting an expansion approval from Eagle County.
TNT Botanicals — which does business under the brand Pot Zero — can now expand to 40 acres of outdoor cultivation. Pot Zero’s crops are organically cultivated without the use of chemicals and the company bills itself as the only zero carbon footprint marijuana cultivation operation in Colorado.
During a six-week review of the expansion plan, county officials expressed their support for the company’s sustainability focus but noted concerns regarding compliance with fire code and emergency access regulations. Officials also cited concerns that the existing special use permit for the operation was out of compliance. Eventually, however, the county and the company were able to hammer out operational conditions to address the issues.
TNT Botanicals is located at a 384-acre, resource-zoned property along Gypsum Creek Road. Its water supply comes from permitted storage ponds on site. In addition to the current two acres of outdoor cultivation, the operation includes 8,500 square feet of greenhouse space for processing and extraction operations. This operation was out of compliance with the specifics of the county’s initial special use permit. Addressing those shortcomings was a key component of the expanded special use request.
Along with expanding cultivation to 40 acres, the new permit application includes 25,600 square feet of processing and extraction facilities and that presented a major sticking point for the application. By defining marijuana processing as an industrial use, the county regulations required an indoor sprinkler system. During the hearing process, the TNT Botanicals crew vehemently objected to that requirement, arguing it was an unreasonable application of the rules that represented a real threat to its business.
“If a tomato farmer hung his tomatoes upside down … the fact that they are hanging their tomatoes upside down wouldn’t be considered industrial processing,” argued TNT Botanicals planner Chris Green. Rather, he noted, converting tomatoes into tomato sauce would represent industrial processing. He likened TNT’s processing to the first example rather than the second — noting that the effort largely involves simply drying out the plants.
“The only real issue that I have with the fire suppression issue is if the sprinklers go off, it would destroy everything,” said Rob Trotter, TNT Botanicals owner. He said an unnecessary sprinkler system could potentially destroy millions of dollars worth of product.
“There is really no real world danger up there. It has all been created by code,” Trotter said.
Christine DeHaviland, a manager at Pot Zero, said Trotter has been very proactive about fire precautions, particularly during last summer’s devastating wildlife season.
“We have always felt safe and secure on the farm,” she noted. “Before I even had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Trotter (about fire precautions) I realized he had fire hose laid out all over the farm.”
That proactive action is indicative of the overall operation, according to Green. He noted Pot Zero has received national recognition for its product and its commitment to a zero carbon footprint.
“Check off all the sustainability boxes for them. They are good at what they do,” Green said
Ponds and containers
During the county’s review process, the TNT Botanicals crew was able to develop a fire mitigation proposal with the Gypsum Fire Protection District. That plan calls for sprinkler installation in a barn building and “early fire detection” measures at shipping containers on site. Additionally, storage ponds on site will maintain sufficient water for fire suppression efforts.
“There were a number of life and safety issues for this application and we believe that we have paid serious attention to those,” Green said. Additionally, he noted TNT submitted a building permit this week for structures located on an upper bench of the property, fencing and pond grading. That action will address compliance issues regarding the previous special use, he said.
The clock has been ticking throughout the TNT application process and that is particularly true for 2021’s growing season. The operation plans to expand cultivation to 10 acres this year, address the conditions that are part of the special use permit, and then expand up to 40 acres as market conditions warrant.
“I really do appreciate the amount of work that has gone into this plan,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “I agree with the staff’s work on this and that this is a file that meets our standard for a special use permit.”
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry acknowledged there has been some frustration from the TNT Botanicals team through the six-week county process.
“But what we have before us now is a much stronger file,” she said. “We can clearly say we think this file clearly meets the standards for a special use permit.”
“I am very excited about the industry and the work you are doing up Gypsum Creek — the net zero, organic nature,” Chandler-Henry added. “I think it’s really a leader in the industry and I am very glad to have it in Eagle County.”
Commissioner Matt Scherr concurred. “For this really innovative project, I think we were all hoping that we could get this to a place where it could succeed.”
With the addition of 12 conditions, the commissioners unanimously approved the TNT Botanicals permit Tuesday.
Colorado’s marijuana industry flexed its big muscles and now an effort to limit pot potency is unraveling
State Rep. Yadira Caraveo says her proposal to limit the potency of marijuana sold recreationally in Colorado was just in its beginning stages. But when draft legislation was recently leaked and prominent figures in the state’s cannabis industry created an uproar, the measure started unraveling.
Now, Caraveo, a Northglenn Democrat and pediatrician, is backing off parts of the measure and loosening the restrictions in what’s left.
“Given the pushback that we’ve had overall on the bill,” she said, “we really want to streamline it and focus it on the things that we think absolutely need to happen this year.”
The episode is a prime example of the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry’s growing clout in Colorado politics. Marijuana interests have been spending more money on lobbying at the state Capitol but haven’t quite flexed their muscles like this since voters approved recreational pot sales in 2012.
There have been newspaper articles with dire quotes. There have been opinion pieces. There have been social media posts.
“It makes sense that the cannabis industry is utilizing whatever resources we have to right this proposal,” said Peter Marcus, communications director for Terrapin Care Station, a major marijuana retailer. “Because without any true research or peer-reviewed science behind the subject, this rushing to policy like this — which would put the industry out of business overnight — doesn’t make any sense.”
House votes to decriminalize marijuana at federal level
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House on Friday approved a bill to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level, reversing what supporters called a failed policy of criminalization of pot use and taking steps to address racial disparities in enforcement of federal drug laws.
Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a hollow political gesture and mocked Democrats for bringing it up at a time when thousands of Americans are dying from the coronavirus pandemic.
“With all the challenges America has right now, (Republicans) think COVID relief should be on the floor, but instead, the Democrats put cats and cannabis” on the House floor, said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “They’re picking weed over the workers. They’re picking marijuana over (providing) the much-needed money we need to go forward″ to address the pandemic.
McCarthy’s comment about cats referred to a separate bill approved by the House to ban private ownership of big cats such as lions and tigers, a measure boosted by the Netflix series “Tiger King.″ That bill, approved by the House on Thursday, would allow most private zoos to keep their tigers and other species but would prohibit most public contact with the animals.
Democrats said they can work on COVID-19 relief and marijuana reform at the same time and noted that the House passed a major pandemic relief bill in May that has languished in the Senate.
Supporters say the pot bill would help reverse adverse effects of the decades-long “war on drugs” by removing marijuana, or cannabis, from the list of federally controlled substances while allowing states to set their own rules on pot. The bill also would use money from a new excise tax on marijuana to address the needs of groups and communities harmed by the so-called drug war and provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.
“For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health,″ said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a key sponsor of the bill. “Whatever one’s views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution and incarceration at the federal level has proven unwise and unjust.″
Drug reform advocates called the House vote historic, noting it is the first time comprehensive legislation to decriminalize marijuana has passed the full House or Senate.
“The criminalization of marijuana is a cornerstone of the racist war on drugs. Even after a decade of reform victories (at the state level), one person was arrested nearly every minute last year for simply possessing marijuana,” said Maritza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “Today the House took the most powerful step forward to address that shameful legacy.”
The vote comes at a time when most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some form, and lawmakers from both parties agreed that national cannabis policy has lagged woefully behind changes at the state level. That divide has created a host of problems — loans and other banking services, for example, are hard to get for many marijuana companies because pot remains illegal at the federal level.
Four states, including New Jersey and Arizona, passed referenda allowing recreational cannabis this year. Voters made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called the House bill an important racial justice measure. Lee, who is Black, said the bill is the product of years of work by a range of advocates and is long overdue. The bill “is a major step, mind you, a major step toward ending the unjust war on drugs and racial inequities that are central to these laws,″ she said.
The bill also would open up more opportunities for marijuana businesses, including access to Small Business Administration loans to help ensure that minorities can take part in an industry dominated by white famers and growers. “This is a job-creating industry, and (the bill) also provides economic opportunities for minority-owned business owners,” Lee said.
The bill, which passed 228-164, now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to advance. A related bill that would give pot businesses access to traditional banking services has languished in the Senate after being approved by the House last year.
Five Republicans supported the bill: Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida; Tom McClintock of California, Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Don Young of Alaska.
Six Democrats opposed it: Reps. Cheri Bustos and Daniel Lipinski of Illinois; Collin Peterson of Minnesota; Chris Pappas of New Hampshire; Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania; and Henry Cuellar of Texas.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, said GOP lawmakers have been pushing for weeks to bring up a bill that allows small businesses to receive another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Many small businesses are struggling or have closed as a result of the pandemic.
If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought the GOP bill to the House floor, “it would get over 400 votes,″ Scalise told Fox News. “And yet, she’s actually focused more on legalizing pot this week than on helping those small businesses with PPP loans. It’s just unbelievable how tone deaf (Democrats) are to these small businesses and the jobs, the families that are tied to them.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also mocked the bill, saying in a floor speech that “the House of Representatives is spending this week on pressing issues like marijuana. You know, serious and important legislation befitting this national crisis.”
Colorado Gov. Polis pardons 2,732 people with convictions for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday issued an executive order pardoning 2,732 people with low-level marijuana convictions as part of legislation recently passed by the Colorado legislature.
The pardons — made in a blanket action and not after individual case considerations — were issued to people convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The Democrat said the action was “cleaning up some of the inequities of the past.”
Polis was able to grant the mass pardons because of the passage of House Bill 1424, which seeks to emphasize social equity in marijuana licensing by giving minorities increased access to Colorado’s legal marijuana industry.
“It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success,” Polis said in a written statement. “Too many Coloradans have been followed their entire lives by a conviction for something that is no longer a crime, and these convictions have impacted their job status, housing and countless other areas of their lives.”
Coloradans voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Ever since, cannabis and criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing the state to address the thousands of historic convictions in Colorado for low-level marijuana possession. However, they have only been able to find piecemeal approaches to addressing the issue — until now.
Dillon OKs marijuana lounges despite public pushback
DILLON — Visitors soon will be able to enjoy marijuana products in designated and highly regulated lounges around Dillon, one of the first towns in Colorado to opt into allowing such establishments.
The Dillon Town Council approved an ordinance Tuesday, Sept. 15, allowing currently licensed marijuana dispensaries to open hospitality establishments. The measure passed in a split 5-2 vote despite pushback from community members who voiced concerns about safety and the town’s identity.
“This is not about whether you smoke pot or know somebody who does,” council member Brad Bailey said. “This is about an existing industry and what I consider the reasonable evolution of that industry. … A lot of the public comments were about the health concerns and about ventilation. And I think we’ve addressed those through this ordinance.”
The ordinance allows the three existing dispensaries in Dillon to open hospitality lounges in an enclosed but adjoining area where guests can smoke or consume other marijuana products under the guidance of store employees.
Each lounge would need an additional license to operate and would be required to meet a number of safety measures. The establishments also would have to provide a transportation plan that identifies safe routes for pedestrians to the town center along with other transportation options to get patrons where they’re going without driving.
In addition to existing laws prohibiting marijuana sales to anyone who is visibly intoxicated, the ordinance bars lounge participants from buying marijuana at the attached retail store on the same day. The new codes also allow the town to implement strict requirements for ventilation systems, which are meant to protect first responders, employees and other nonparticipants from inhaling smoke.
The hospitality establishments are subject to the same hours of operation restrictions as the dispensaries (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and the lounges have to take their last appointment at least 1 1/2 hours before closing. Employees can’t serve any products to anyone within an hour of closing.
The marijuana lounge concept as it stands in Colorado is relatively new. Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing the sale and consumption of marijuana at licensed establishments. But first, local municipalities have to opt in.
With the ink barely dry on the new codes, officials said the town hasn’t received any formal proposals yet. But it likely won’t take too long.
Aaron Bluse, owner of Altitude Organic Cannabis, was the first to approach the Town Council with the idea late last year, and he has plans to move forward with the concept immediately. Bluse said he’s already requested an application and that he will be working carefully with his team and the town to make sure everything is up to snuff.
“We’re taking a diligent approach,” Bluse said. “We have to go through a design-planning phase, application phase, build-out phase and implementation. So it’s going to take a little time, but good things are worth the wait. We’re going to make sure that this is done right, that it’s something everyone can stand behind and something we can enjoy for years to come.”
Others aren’t as confident the lounges are a good idea. Several community members wrote in letters or dialed into the virtual council meeting to provide their thoughts on the topic, almost universally voicing a desire to keep the establishments out of Dillon.
Dr. Don Parsons, former mayor pro-tem, said the council has an obligation to protect the safety and welfare of the town’s residents and visitors, and he voiced concerns about the health risks of smoking and whether smoke could effectively be dispersed from the room.
Others expressed concerns about intoxicated drivers and the cultural impact the lounges could have on the town.
“If this is such a great idea, why aren’t there lounges on Main Street in Breckenridge or Frisco?” Len Szmurlo said. “Why are all these dispensaries tucked away on Airport Road or on the backstreets of all these towns? … I think the council has made great strides in improving the town with all these current developments being built. Why take the unnecessary chance of undermining these accomplishments with a business that is being looked upon as unappealing, at the least, by the majority of visitors and residents?”
A recent unscientific Summit Daily News reader poll found that 229 out of 427 (54%) of respondents said they were not in favor of the marijuana hospitality establishments.
Council members Karen Kaminski and Renee Imamura echoed residents’ concerns.
“I kind of disagreed with this from the start,” Kaminski said. “There are just aspects of it that I don’t think fit the community, and I never have, for the image that I want to see in Dillon. Listening to the public comments, I think we have public speaking out that don’t want this in our community. And there are good reasons for it.”
But the other council members ultimately felt that the ordinance was sufficiently restrictive to mitigate any negative side effects of the marijuana lounges in town and that many residents were expressing misconceptions about the lounge concept and marijuana users themselves.
“I didn’t feel that I heard anything that compelled me against the direction I’d been leaning on this as we’ve had our conversations and worked through a lot of our concerns we brought up,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “I see this as a very similar, but much more restrictive, bar situation. And I think offering the ride home is a lot better than we do at bars, where they’re not mandated to offer a ride home or have a service available. I think we’re going above and beyond here.”
Bluse called the community’s concerns his own and assured residents that public safety is a top priority. Still, he expressed excitement at what he called a long-overdue place for marijuana users to enjoy themselves.
“This could potentially be one of the first handful of lounges in the nation,” Bluse said. “The honor is great, and the excitement is equal. It’s a dream come true. We’re going to be changing some of the social-cultural future of our country, and that’s something we’re deeply moved by and deeply passionate about. That’s all in the pursuit of our individual liberties.”