Social consumption

Telluride School District Superintendent Mike Gass spoke against areas established for social consumption of marijuana in Telluride. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

A majority of Telluride Town Council members agreed on taking a wait-and-see approach to new state rules surrounding the establishment of places where the public can consume marijuana. All members of council were present and heard from members of the community who are concerned about what the message that allowing such businesses says to area youth, as well as those concerned about hazards to public health. The topic was discussed in the morning work session of council’s Tuesday meeting.

Colorado state lawmakers passed a bill in its last legislative session — HB-1230 — that gives municipalities the ability to permit social consumption areas, if they choose to opt in. Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law earlier this year. One license allows for hospitality-only, in which consumers bring their own marijuana products, and one permits sales of marijuana products to guests who then stay on site to consume. There are also provisions for mobile and delivery options in HB-1230. Municipalities can be more restrictive but not less so, explained town attorney Kevin Geiger. The state is still fine-tuning the rules, leaving most on council uneasy about moving forward. The new bill takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

“If you don’t do anything, nothing happens,” Geiger told council.

In what Geiger described as “an interesting twist,” municipalities can opt out of the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, which would permit the combustion of marijuana products in an enclosed, ventilated space. Few on council expressed willingness to do that.

For council member Tom Watkinson, the issue of being able to legally purchase cannabis — Telluride has five licensed dispensaries — but have nowhere to consume purchases created “an interesting conundrum.”

“There needs to be some place for consumption,” he said. “We need something like this at some point.”

Only council member Geneva Shaunette was willing to move forward with opting in, but acknowledged hers was the sole voice on council eager to do so.

Public comment for this, the third work session on the matter, came from school officials, Tri-County Health Network and one public health expert, all who urged council to hold off on paving the way for social consumption businesses to operate. Though there have been members of community who have spoken in favor of using the bill to open hospitality establishments, there were none in attendance Tuesday morning.

Telluride School District Superintendent Mike Gass said, “I have to advocate for our kids,” and said that allowing marijuana hospitality businesses would send the message that would “normalize some behaviors.”

Gass further requested that the 1,000-foot distance from any social consumption businesses be maintained for daycares and schools, if council opts in to the new law.

Paul Reich, Tri-County Health Network behavioral health program manager, encouraged council to delay making a decision on whether to opt in.

“We send the wrong message when we turn our backs on the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act,” he said. “Let’s wait and see how this plays out.”

Lindsey Welch has previously spoken out against moving forward on the new law. She implored council to consider the science behind secondhand smoke.

“Let’s be progressive in protecting our kids,” she said.

Council member Lars Carlson was part of the majority on council advocating a wait-and-see approach.

“I see no reason to move forward,” Carlson said. “We don’t need to be at the forefront.”

Shaunette said she felt cannabis was subject to greater scrutiny than alcohol.

“I don’t see anyone coming to protest a new bar in town,” she said. “There’s a bit of a disconnect and discrimination against cannabis.”

Shaunette also proposed raising the purchasing age of tobacco to 21 years of age in an effort to push back against smoking and vaping use among area youth.

Town attorney Geiger informed council that doing so was within its purview to do so, but officials would need time to craft the necessary legislation.