Hotels could allow pot if they saw fit

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 13, 2014

Guests staying in Aspen hotels could be allowed to smoke marijuana in their rooms if the hotel had smoker-friendly units, but few if any local lodges do.

Assistant city attorney Debbie Quinn noted the potential way to provide tourists with a place to smoke during a panel discussion Tuesday between Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) members and the Valley Marijuana Council. The session covered the impacts of retail marijuana on the hospitality industry.

The city restricts marijuana consumption in public, however Aspen hotels are free to create their own policy allowing or prohibiting guests to consume marijuana inside their hotel rooms, Quinn told ACRA members.

“If you have private rooms where guests can only be, that does not fit our definition of public,” Quinn said.

Quinn noted there is a state law making it illegal for businesses to advertise as being marijuana friendly to residents outside of Colorado. That means hotels have to be careful when they’re advertising their smoking rooms, she said.

Most Aspen hotels have no-smoking policies in most rooms, said Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel.

“We don’t want smoking in our rooms — it’s offensive to our guests,” Klug said of his hotel.

Klug also asked whether it would be legal for guests to smoke on their hotel balconies.

Unless hotels allow smoking in their rooms, there is no legal place for their guests to consume weed in Aspen, said Jordan Lewis, owner of Aspen’s Silverpeak Apothecary. If hotels don’t create a way for guests to consume marijuana, they’ll likely do it anyway, Lewis added. That’s why it’s important that hotels offer smoke-friendly rooms and provide pamphlets with information about local pot laws to guests.

ACRA members in the room liked the idea of providing information to guests, and asked about ways hotel managers can educate staff.

In some hotels, employees are allowed to take home food that’s left behind by guests, Klug said. Employees might mistake marijuana edible products, which look like regular candy when out of their packaging, for common treats and eat it, he said.

“The issue of our hospitality workers taking it home is huge,” Klug said, referencing an incident in June when a 7-year-old Basalt girl was hospitalized after eating a pot candy her mother, an Aspen hotel worker, brought home without knowing the edible’s nature.

Lewis admitted marijuana edibles can be extremely potent and they’re currently designed in a way that can confuse people who don’t know it’s marijuana, which is dangerous. That’s why it’s important both pot shop proprietors and the hospitality industry try to educate guests, he said.

“Familiarity is what we need here,” he said.

About half of Silverpeak’s business comes from selling edibles, Lewis said

Quinn noted there is a legal “gray area” around whether or not guests at private events in hotels are allowed to consume marijuana legally. The city currently prohibits private businesses like restaurants and bars from converting into marijuana clubs where people can visit and get high. Hotels are not currently in that category, she said, so if the hotel was rented for a private event, guests could consume marijuana there.

“If it’s truly a private event, then it’s allowed,” Quinn said, adding that small events are not likely to draw police attention.

“Just don’t supply cannabis,” advised local attorney Lauren Maytin, who specializes in marijuana laws.

Since pot became legal, the Aspen Police Department hasn’t issued any tickets related to people smoking herb in public, Pryor said. Meanwhile, Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies have made one arrest for driving while under the influence of marijuana, DiSalvo said.

Quinn added that Aspen City Council’s approach to regulating the industry has been conservative, because the federal government might decide to make Aspen an example due to its reputation of having a drug-friendly culture.

DiSalvo noted that it’s better be proactive and deal with the potential issues that may rise in the community in light of marijuana legalization instead of taking a “head-in-the sand” approach.

Marijuana has always been a part of the culture partly because of its connection to skiing, he said, adding that one of the first times he smelled marijuana was in 1980 when he was riding an Aspen chairlift.

“Whether we want to believe it or not, marijuana has been a part of the community for a long time,” DiSalvo said.

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