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.”
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