It's likely that within weeks there will be more than one medical marijuana dispensary in Aspen, as interest continues to build from local groups hoping to tap an untouched market.
Aspen attorney Lauren Maytin, who serves on the board of directors of the Colorado branch of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and has been working on the issue for a decade, said she has met with several clients looking to open dispensaries on the Western Slope, including Aspen.
Another group will likely beat them to the punch of being Aspen's first pot dispensary — Aspen L.E.A.F.. (Locals Emporium of Alternative Farms), owned by longtime locals. They are finalizing a lease for space downtown and are scheduled to be open within days.
Maytin said her clients are ensuring they comply with all Colorado laws.
“They are taking their time to make sure they're doing it right,” she said.
Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon said medical marijuana dispensaries are an allowed use in nearly every zone district downtown because they fall under “pharmacy.”
“Pharmacy is anywhere you can have an office, which is virtually everywhere,” Bendon said.
Limited retail is allowed in dispensaries because it's incidental to the sale and use of marijuana products.
Bendon used the example of Rodney's Pharmacy, which sells medication and crutches for patients who are injured.
While dispensaries are allowed in Aspen, other municipalities have placed moratoriums on them.
The Basalt Town Council recently approved a 90-day moratorium on new pot dispensaries to buy time for its planning staff to work on regulations governing such facilities.
Moratoriums also are in effect in Breckenridge, Frisco, Minturn and Eagle, Maytin said. In the meantime, many of her clients are preparing their business plans.
“I'm busy with the I-70 corridor and most of them are waiting for the moratoriums to be lifted,” she said.
Maytin spent Thursday morning with clients. One plans to open a dispensary in Breckenridge; another wants to set up shop in Glenwood Springs.
Under Colorado's medical marijuana law, approved by voters as Amendment 20 in 2000, patients with certain conditions, including HIV, muscle spasms and chronic pain, can use medical marijuana as long as they get a doctor's approval and register with the state.
The law permits patients or their designated caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants or possess two ounces of usable marijuana.
Aspen L.E.A.F. will offer several strains of the plant, which is Colorado-grown, and will be available in edible and vaporized form for those qualified to buy cannabis. Starter plants with lighting equipment will be sold, as will kief and hashish.
If they open before Maytin's other clients, Aspen L.E.A.F.. will be the first marijuana shop in Aspen and the third in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The WIN Health Institute, an alternative health care cooperative located in Basalt, opened a dispensary this month, and Colorado Mountain Dispensary (C.M.D.) opened for business in Carbondale in early July.
Aspen L.E.A.F.., under the parent company, Colorado Medical Marijuana Supply Inc., filed a business license application with the city of Aspen last week. Bendon's department acted as the referral agency before the license could be granted. Bendon finalized his interpretation of the code Wednesday, which determined it's an allowed use. The license is pending.
Anyone has 15 days to appeal the issuance of a business license, Bendon noted.
He said some municipalities are regulating dispensaries that stipulate they can't be located within a certain distance from childcare centers, schools, or from each other.
“That assumes there is a degradation of morality with dispensaries and we don't see it that way,” Bendon said.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said they don't see any problems with a medical marijuana dispensary in Aspen.
August 21, 2009
Medical marijuana market budding in Aspen, elsewhere