Now that the governor’s signature has dried on a bill that will permit social cannabis consumption, it’s up to Colorado’s municipalities to decide whether to opt-in once the bill goes live in 2020. Telluride Town Council mulled the possibility at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.
In a town that supports five licensed dispensaries, the need for a place to legally imbibe products procured there, has been, by law, limited. Most hotels and condos forbid smoking of any kind in the rooms, and lighting up in a car or on Main Street is illegal. And, consuming cannabis on federal land — read: the ski area — is also forbidden.
Town attorney Kevin Geiger outlined the details of the new state law, asking council, “Is the Town of Telluride willing to opt in?”
There are myriad regulations surrounding social smoking in a municipality. Among them there can be no liquor on premise, no tobacco and no sales to those visibly impaired. With a hospitality license, members must bring their own cannabis and the license holder cannot give out free samples. The social smoking area can be part of a restaurant as long as the area is separated and the restaurant does not have a liquor license.
The laws pertaining to a hospitality and sales license scenario dictate that product must be purchased onsite, and much like a wine corking fee-take-away option in a restaurant, any unused portion may be taken home by the consumer. If any unused cannabis is left in the social smoking establishment, however, it must be destroyed. Bringing one’s own weed would not be allowed in a hospitality and sales scenario.
Geiger told council members that while they could not create looser regulations, they would be permitted to add rules, similarly to their powers regarding liquor licenses.
“(Local regulations) can be more, not less restrictive,” Geiger explained.
He said they could enforce distance regulations from schools, recreational facilities such as the Town Park pool or even exclude a social smoking area from the historic downtown district.
“I would think that proximity would be a concern,” he said. “That’s for you to decide.”
Among the potential license-holders under the new law, current licensed dispensaries could apply for a tasting room license (similar to a brewery tasting room) and hotels, performance venues, art galleries, yoga studios and other businesses can apply for private consumption licenses and limited sales. There is also the ability in the new laws to apply for mobile services such as tour buses and limousines, as well as for temporary special event licenses.
While some on council expressed trepidation, council member Geneva Shaunette voiced support for beginning the process soon — a two-reading ordinance would be required, Geiger said — in order to be able to go live as soon as the Colorado law goes into effect in January.
“This is a really interesting and unique industry,” she said. “Let’s continue to be on the forefront and make history.”
She cited the opening of Telluride dispensaries on Jan. 1, 2014, which was the moment the laws surrounding Amendment 64 — which made the sale of recreational cannabis legal — went into effect. Day one in Telluride was marked by long lines of customers outside shops, many of whom saved their receipts to mark the historic occasion.
Others on council were more reserved at the prospect of offering local and visiting cannabis consumers a place to light up without fear of retribution.
“This is not a need, it’s a desire,” said council member Tom Watkinson. “Let’s ease into it.”
Mayor Sean Murphy advised caution, wondering, “What’s the rush?”
Murphy also noted that since this current iteration of council has just four meetings left in the year — the mayoral seat and two council seats are up for grabs in November — it might be wise to defer the decision to a future council.
“Do we want to be the council that makes this decision?” he asked.
Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown reminded council and the public that in light of his representation on the Communities That Care group, the availability of social smoking places would put further pressure on area youth that, according to a recent survey, are already exposed to cannabis.
“It’s already a consumption issue starting in sixth grade,” Brown said.
Geiger, too, advised a methodical approach.
“I see the benefit to waiting,” he said.
Murphy stressed the need for more public input and, with others on council, called for another work session. Shaunette agreed.
“Let’s see what our community wants,” she said. “Why not keep the conversation going?”
Another work session is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10.
In other council news, Jonathan Yaseen was unanimously appointed to a two-year seat on the Open Space Commission.
Town Clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh outlined key calendar dates surrounding the Nov. 5 municipal election. Nomination petitions will be released on Aug. 6 and petitions from candidates must be returned to the clerk’s office by Aug. 26. Additional information can be found by calling the clerk’s office at 970-728-2157, or by going to telluride-co.gov and clicking on town clerk/elections.