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Altitude Organic seeks to bring 1st medical marijuana offering to Dillon

DILLON — Altitude Organic Cannabis is hoping to bring medical marijuana to Dillon next year.

Dillon currently has three recreational marijuana dispensaries in town, but Altitude Organic is anticipating opening the town’s first medical marijuana option as early as next spring, assuming local and state officials sign off on the proposal. Dispensary owner and CEO Aaron Bluse said the move would help to fill a gap in the county for community members who rely on natural medications.   

“What we’re looking to do is give people an option for alternative medicine as opposed to traditional,” Bluse said. “When you look at medical cannabis, it serves as treatment for everything from chronic pain to nausea from chemotherapy. … We want to create options for people to feel better and have less impact on themselves and their bodies. That’s the fundamental void we’re trying to fill, and we can do that through medical marijuana.”

In March 2017, the Dillon Town Council approved an ordinance allowing for the licensing of medical marijuana retailers in town and updated the town’s zoning codes to allow for the establishments last year. Once opened — Bluse estimates spring or summer 2021 depending on licensing — Altitude Organic would become Dillon’s first medical marijuana facility and would join High Country Healing in Silverthorne and Native Roots in Frisco among the county’s other medical retailers.

Bluse said there’s a clear need for more medical options in the county, noting that there are between 150 and 200 residents in Dillon who already use cannabis medicinally. A new medical retailer also would help to better cater to visitors’ needs in the area, he said.

“It’s like having a prescription for headache medication that you can go to Walgreens and fill, even when you’re on vacation or out of town,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “You still ought to be able to get the medication you need, and I think this is the same way. If someone is visiting, and they have a need for marijuana that has to be filled, they should absolutely have the ability to get it done here in Dillon.”

Medical marijuana products typically differ from recreational offerings in dosage and potency — dispensaries can sell edibles with up to 100 mg of THC recreationally versus 1,000 mg medically — and how they’re consumed. Bluse said medical users are often looking for alternatives to smoking marijuana flower, opting instead for noncombustible options like topical lotions or sublingual tinctures.

Bluse said he’s hoping to send his dual-license application to the town later this month, after which the business will start the long process of getting state approval. Of note, Altitude Organic is also in the early process of getting a marijuana consumption lounge open in town after Dillon officials passed an ordinance legalizing the establishments earlier this year.

But unlike a consumption lounge, the new medical offerings wouldn’t necessitate a hefty remodel. The medical section of the shop would be “virtually separated” from the recreational side of things, essentially allocating one of the store’s checkout stations for medical products. The products also would be tagged in different colors — yellow for medical, blue for recreational — and could be sold only from their designated stations. Because the medical marijuana offerings wouldn’t be physically separated in another area of the building, medical customers under 21 years old wouldn’t be allowed to take advantage.

While community members await the presumptive arrival of medical marijuana sales in town, Bluse said Altitude Organic Cannabis is actively offering discounts on its recreational products for anyone with a medical card to help fill the need in the meantime.

“For us, doing things as close to Mother Nature as possible is what we believe in,” Bluse said. “We’re looking to go ahead and bring that ethos to Summit County with respect to medical as we have for recreational, and create that opportunity and alternative health options for those living in the county or visiting the town.”

Colorado governor pardons 2,732 people with pre-legalization marijuana convictions

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday issued pardons to people convicted in state courts of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana through 2012, when voters approved pot legalization in Colorado.

The pardons, issued by executive order, do not apply to convictions in municipal courts or in other states. Polis signed into law in June legislation authorizing him to grant pardons for people convicted of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana — the current legal limit for medical marijuana possession.

“It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success,” Polis said in a statement. His action affects 2,732 convictions — though some people may have been convicted on several charges.

The pardons don’t expunge or seal conviction records but will remove them from public records so they don’t appear on private-sector background checks, The Denver Post reports. Law enforcement checks will reveal the convictions but note the governor’s pardon.

Denver Democratic Rep. James Coleman, a sponsor of the bipartisan legislation signed into law in June, told the Post he hopes to get legislation passed to fully expunge the convictions.

For more information on the pardons, go to comarijuanapardons.com.

Dillon approves marijuana consumption lounge ordinance on 1st reading

Customers shop for marijuana at the Altitude Organic Cannabis Dispensary in Dillon.
Photo by Hugh Carey / Summit Daily archives

DILLON — Officials took another step toward legalizing marijuana hospitality lounges in Dillon last week, signing off on the first reading of a new ordinance that outlines rules and regulations for businesses hoping to take the leap.

The Dillon Town Council approved the ordinance on first reading in a split 6-1 vote during the regular meeting Sept. 1. Council member Kyle Hendricks was the lone dissenter.

A public hearing and final vote on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 15, but officials say last week’s vote might not serve as a herald for an eventual code change. Instead, officials said the initial approval of the ordinance was more of a show of confidence that enough work had been done to ensure the hospitality establishments could operate safely if allowed. And the greater conversation around whether the lounges are wanted in town is still to come.

“It was more around the safety and regulation pieces, making sure that we have that covered so that if the ordinance were to pass, the council would be comfortable with how it reads,” Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson said. “I think we’re in a spot where if council approves this, we’ll be ready to go. We have all of our ducks in a row, and we can definitely enforce this ordinance.”

The inclusion of marijuana hospitality lounges in town isn’t a decision the council has taken lightly, and the current ordinance represents a final product resulting from numerous work sessions on the topic.

The ordinance includes several special provisions for the hospitality lounges, mostly aimed at making sure any would-be patrons aren’t putting themselves or anyone else in danger. If the measure were to be passed, any applicants would be required to come up with a transportation plan that identifies safe pedestrian routes from the lounge to the town center and options to safely return patrons to their homes. Employees would be required to advise patrons on how to safely get where they need to go if they’re showing any signs of intoxication.

The ordinance also stipulates requirements for ventilation systems used in hospitality establishments to protect first responders and others who enter without wanting to get high, sets timing restrictions for reservations and prohibits patrons from being able to purchase cannabis products from the attached dispensary during the same day.

Johnson said council was interested in taking any public comment on the issue before moving forward.

“From a staff level, we wanted to make sure that we brought everything to the table, worked through any issues with council and presented an ordinance that really covered all of the main topics,” Johnson said. “That’s where we’re at today. We’ll see what happens next Tuesday, especially with the public hearing and council member comments, as to whether or not they would support something like this.”

Aaron Bluse, owner of Altitude Organic Cannabis in Dillon, has served as a driving force behind the conversation over the past several months, pushing officials to consider the move to create a safe space for visitors to experiment with marijuana.

Bluse lauded town officials for “doing things the right way” in regard to compiling the necessary safety features for the proposed lounges and said he was optimistic the town council would support the ordinance across the finish line. If so, Bluse said he and his team would begin methodically and diligently working their way through the application and engineering process to get approved.

Bluse said the inclusion of consumption lounges in the county was necessary to create a positive experience for visitors, help educate guests on how to safely consume marijuana and provide a legal setting to do so.  

“There are 12 or 13 places in town you can go enjoy an alcoholic beverage and zero places in town to enjoy cannabis,” Bluse said. “So there’s a real need in the community. And it’s analogous to where we live in the mountains. We always say that we’d never put anyone on a double black diamond right out of the gate. This could give them an opportunity to try it out with some guidance, wisdom and knowledge. It’s experiential, but it’s also educational.”

Bluse said the town and county have been given a major opportunity to be one of the first areas in the country to offer the service and that the chance shouldn’t be squandered.

“When things normalize and we’re able to be social creatures again, the lounge model is going to be a new developing part of the industry,” Bluse said. “… I’ve been to Spain and Amsterdam, and I’ve seen how these function because they’ve been doing it for decades. The reason Amsterdam was the premier destination is because they were first, they didn’t frown upon it, and they found ways to regulate it so there was responsibility, safety and accountability from the individuals running the business.

“So I really feel like it’s important that Summit County be a vanguard for this, because it’s once in a lifetime. It’s a once in a century opportunity to be able to be the first to usher in a new era.”

Weed vending machine debuts in Colorado with more on the way

In an era when consumers can buy groceries, pet supplies and even a life-size cardboard cutout of Lizzo without directly seeing a human, one company is ensuring Coloradans can also purchase their cannabis contactless.

Matt Frost is founder and CEO of Anna, what he calls a “tricked out vending machine” designed to take and fill orders for marijuana products. The first ones landed at Strawberry Fields dispensary in central Pueblo, where customers can now purchase flower, edibles and vape oils without having to interact with a budtender. They’ll debut at a second dispensary, Starbuds in Aurora, sometime this year.

Frost, whose background is in healthcare data analytics, originally developed the concept to adapt the efficiency of a retail self-checkout system to the marijuana industry. In his home state of Massachusetts, dispensary waits can be hours-long and some shops require patrons schedule a pickup time for pre-ordered products.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic forced pot shops to adapt to increased demand for online ordering and curbside pickup, Frost saw an opportunity to help them modernize and get in on the contactless craze.

Read the full story on denverpost.com.

Legal cannabis sales in Colorado reach all-time high in May

DENVER (AP) — Cannabis sales in Colorado set a new monthly record in May, reaching their highest level since broad legalization in 2014.

Dispensaries sold over $192 million worth of cannabis products that month, according to data from the state Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division compiled by The Denver Post. That figure is up about 29% from April and 32% from May 2019.

Sales at medical and recreational marijuana shops hit monthly all-time highs, with just under $43 million and just over $149 million, respectively.

In all, the cannabis industry has sold more than $779 million in products so far this year and paid more than $167 million in taxes and fees to the state.

Colorado dispensaries were deemed essential businesses during the early days of the pandemic when there were statewide stay-at-home orders. So far, monthly cannabis sales this year have consistently outpaced 2019, which was the highest-grossing year on record.

Dillon officials in support of allowing marijuana consumption lounge

Customers shop for marijuana in March 2018 at the Altitude Organic Cannabis Dispensary in Dillon. The business has shown a strong interest in opening a consumption lounge but has not yet applied.
Photo by Hugh Carey / Summit Daily archives

DILLON — A cannabis consumption lounge may soon be making its way to Dillon.

Dillon Town Council members largely voiced support for the proposal during a virtual work session discussion Tuesday afternoon, July 7, ultimately deciding that providing a safe space to consume and educate community members about marijuana could be a valuable service.  

Last year, the state passed a bill allowing for the consumption of cannabis products at licensed and regulated facilities. Sites can begin popping up as early as January, but local municipalities have to opt-in to allow them to open.

Governments around Summit County already have begun weighing the idea. Silverthorne has chosen not to allow the facilities, and Breckenridge addressed the issue in November but hasn’t returned to the discussion. Many officials in Dillon said they don’t have any problem with being the first town to make the move.

“Education is really important,” council member Jen Barchers said. “We can look at this positively and say, ‘We’re the first ones in Summit County to start educating people’ and to say, ‘Here’s how you properly have an edible. Here’s how you feel when you’re on an edible.’ … It’s going to be a service to our visitors.”

Not everyone on the council agreed. Council members Karen Kaminski and Renee Imamura took the strongest stances against the concept, bringing up worries about safety and the town’s image.

Safety has been one of the chief concerns from the beginning, most notably in creating a space that would be safe for any first responders that might need to go inside and not exacerbating existing DUI issues in the area.

Both concerns were addressed in the workshop, and council formed a consensus to require consumption lounges to install a top-quality ventilation system that would prevent nonsmokers from being affected and ensure that guests leave the facility in some sort of shuttle service.

Some council members continued to say that marijuana dispensaries are already more highly regulated than bars in the state and would be subjected to potentially severe punishments like losing their license for violations.

While some voiced ongoing worries about monitoring the shops, the conversation also turned toward more of a cultural debate.

“I feel that we need to really ask ourselves if we want to be known as the town that has a consumption lounge,” Imamura said. “… When I look at what our values are, I don’t think they’re in line with how we want to promote Dillon.”

“I think that has to expand to the types of concerts we bring in, the type of people we attract to those concerts and the overall picture of it,” added Kaminski. “It’s frustrating to say we’re not going to have a consumption lounge, but then we’ll bring in music that brings in all the pot smokers and brings in that population to our community, where I personally don’t want to be in town when they’re here. …

“It’s not stereotyping or saying all people who smoke pot are bad people; it’s a culture and environment we create that people are either comfortable in or not.”

Mayor Carolyn Skowyra rebutted, saying that Summit County voters heavily supported legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, that many community members already consume marijuana and that on-site education is the best option for many visitors.

“We’re not inviting some population that isn’t already here,” Skowyra said. “To touch on the concert point, I’m absolutely not in favor of having a visioning meeting where we say we don’t want bands that are going to bring people to town that smoke pot. Because I really think it’s not fair to put people in a box like that. … I think we can find an answer for this — for Dillon to be the first one and for it to be a good thing for Dillon.”

Others argued marijuana is already prevalent in the community and that the council should respect the industry’s growth locally.

“It’s already part of our community,” council member Steven Milroy said. “… I kind of feel better with smoking being indoors in a confined space that is filtered and is away from the recpath, the marina and all the other places you smell it from time to time. … I tend to be more progressive because people are doing it already, and I don’t want to discriminate against people’s choices.”

In total, five of the seven council members agreed to pursue the idea assuming certain safety regulations could be put into place. Town Manager Nathan Johnson said there were currently no applicants but that Altitude Organics has shown strong interest.

If the town does decide to allow consumption lounges, the council would need to officially amend the town code via a new ordinance.

Colorado marijuana sales hit a record $1.75 billion in 2019

Last year was the most lucrative 12 months for cannabis sales in Colorado since the state’s voters legalized recreational marijuana.

Medical and recreational cannabis sales hit a record $1.75 billion in 2019, up 13% from 2018, according to data from the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. Marijuana tax collections also hit an all-time high, at more than $302 million in 2019.

December closed out the year with strong sales totaling more than $144 million, up 6.7% compared to the previous year. But that wasn’t the biggest month of 2019; instead, August topped the calendar year with $173 million in sales.

All told, Colorado marijuana sales now have hit $7.79 billion since recreational sales began in 2014.

Truman Bradley, the newly appointed executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said the revenue increases in Colorado track with expectations.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Kansas Highway Patrol targets out-of-state drivers, especially those from Colorado, lawsuit alleges

Ninety-three percent of the Kansas Highway Patrol’s traffic stops in 2017 involved cars with out-of-state plates, according to a lawsuit challenging the practice as an infringement on motorists’ constitutional rights.

In an amended lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of three plaintiffs, including two Oklahoma brothers who initially filed the complaint, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and a Kansas City, Missouri, law firm contend that the traffic stop statistics show that the Kansas Highway Patrol specifically targets out-of-state drivers, including many on the main highway connecting Kansas with neighboring Colorado, because that state’s legalized marijuana.

The case began as a hand-scrawled complaint filed last December by the two irate brothers, but it got significant legal backing when the ACLU and the law firm, Spencer Fane LLP, joined their cause. The lawsuit, which lists the Kansas Highway Patrol, its superintendent Herman Jones, and two troopers as defendants, argues that specifically targeting out-of-state drivers infringes on such drivers’ constitutional protection from illegal searches and seizures.

The Kansas Highway Patrol said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

The revised complaint, which also seeks class-action status, contends that the highway patrol has had a laser-like focus on drivers traveling Interstate 70, which the agency has designated a “drug corridor.” Out-of-state motorists driving on that interstate constituted 96% of all of the agency’s reported civil forfeitures from 2018 to 2019, the lawsuit contends. Two-thirds of those motorists were either drivers of color or they had passengers of color in the vehicle.

The complaint also challenges a law enforcement practice known as “the Kansas Two Step,” a maneuver used to detain drivers for canine drug searches. The maneuver, which is included in the agency’s training materials, is a way to break off an initial traffic stop and attempt to reengage the driver in what would then be a consensual encounter.

The way the “Kansas Two Step” works is this: A trooper stops a vehicle with out-of-state plates under the pretense of a minor traffic violation. The trooper issues the driver a ticket or warning for the infraction, then turns around and takes a couple of steps away from the vehicle before turning around and asking the driver to agree to answer additional questions. When the driver denies transporting anything illegal, the trooper requests consent to search the car. If the driver declines to consent to a search, the trooper detains the driver for a canine drug search.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Joshua Bosire, a black man who lives in Wichita, where he works as an engineer in aviation. He travels on I-70 twice a month to visit his 4-year-old daughter, who lives in Littleton, Colorado. On a return trip from visiting her last February, Bosire was driving a rental car that had a Missouri license plate when he was stopped for driving 6 mph (9.7 kph) over the speed limit. Bosire was detained for 36 minutes before a drug dog arrived. No drugs were found.

The two other named plaintiffs are Elontah Blaine Shaw and Samuel Shaw, Native American brothers who live in Oklahoma City. Elontah Shaw works as an Uber driver and travels I-70 through Kansas several times per year to visit family and friends in Colorado. They were subjected to a drug dog search during traffic stop for speeding in December 2017. They were released from detention after an hour and a half. Troopers did not find any illicit drugs.

Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said in a news release that the detained drivers endured canine unit searches and that one was subjected to a personal pat down on the side of the highway.

“The standard for this kind of invasion of privacy has to be higher than out-of-state plates, a Colorado destination and minority status,” Bonds said. “This practice is unconstitutional on many levels.”

An average of more than 10,000 motorists and their passengers drive through Kansas on I-70 each day, according to the complaint. The state estimates that about 7,820 of them each day are traveling to or coming from Colorado.

Dillon considers allowing marijuana lounges

Dillon is considering allowing established marijuana facilities in town open cannabis lounges.
Summit Daily file photo

DILLON — The town of Dillon is considering moving forward with efforts to open the area’s first marijuana consumption lounge, which would give residents and visitors the opportunity to purchase and consume cannabis at the same location.

In May 2019, Gov. Jared Polis signed a new bill into law that allows local jurisdictions to opt in to new marijuana regulations — namely the development of marijuana hospitality establishments, where patrons would be able to gather to smoke or otherwise consume cannabis legally and socially.

While the new law went into effect at the turn of the New Year, municipalities around the state have largely been hesitant to jump on board with the concept, including here in Summit County where Silverthorne has already started the opt-out process and Breckenridge continues to carefully mull over their options.

Though, there is movement on a potential consumption lounge in the county. At the most recent Dillon Town Council meeting last week, officials and staff discussed the idea and decided to move forward in conversations with stakeholders in the area, including dispensary owners looking to take advantage of the new law.

“We’re obviously passionate about the plant,” said Aaron Bluse, CEO and co-owner of Altitude Organic Cannabis in Dillon, who presented council with a concept for his own bud-bar late last year. “We believe in it in all forms and facets — adult and recreational, medical, industrial with regard to help. What we’re looking at in particular with this subject is normalizing something that should already be normalized. What I mean by that is we have multitudes of places to consume alcohol in a responsible and safe manner. Within Summit County, and why it would work so well in our community, is there are no safe places to responsibly consume cannabis in a legal setting.”

In addition to other topics the council will consider — such as additional revenue, parking and the potential to draw more cannabis tourists to town — safety will undoubtedly emerge as one of the biggest concerns among community members and officials as conversations into the idea continue. In addition to ongoing efforts from law enforcement in the area to cut into the number of DUIs and crimes preceded by heavy substance use, some are also concerned with officer safety.

Dillon Police Chief Mark Heminghous said that he didn’t have any strong feelings either way in regard to a potential cannabis lounge, but he did voice some general concerns about his officers possibly being forced into contact with marijuana smoke or vapor.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Heminghous said. “It’s another change in the law that I never really thought I’d be discussing. When I started 26 years ago, I never thought it would reach this point. … I do have general concerns. If there is anything that’s still ingestible in the air, then I have concerns when we go in to do a bar check. Being in that atmosphere as an officer could definitely pose some health risks.”

When asked about health concerns, Bluse noted that the lounge would be fitted with an air filtration system to help keep smoke out of the air and anybody not actively consuming their products sober.

Similarly, any lounges also would have other safety standards in place, such as established limits for sales — less than 1 gram of flower, one-quarter gram of concentrate, 10 or less milligrams of THC in edibles — so that patrons would be able to easily monitor their consumption. Bluse noted he also was hoping to brush aside the “hippy lounge” or “dorm basement” aesthetic often associated with marijuana use for something more professional.

Bluse feels simply providing a space for marijuana users will make things safer for everyone.

“That’s the most common questions we get,” Bluse said. “People come in, and they’re excited, and they ask questions about all the different ways to consume. And then they ask, ‘where can I consume this?’ We don’t have a good answer.

“If you’re in the mountains, that’s national forest land. You can’t smoke in the parks or in public, and we’ll never advise anyone doing it in or around their vehicles. It’s something that’s usually not allowed in any hotel, and you’ll get a fine because of it. When you look at the options that are present, while it’s easily available to purchase and possess, this is the missing link for a disenfranchised part of the community — those that prefer cannabis over alcohol.”

At the meeting last week, the concept was met with mixed feedback. The council agreed that if any lounges were to move forward, they’d be restricted to any of the town’s three existing retail marijuana licensed facilities. Councilors Kyle Hendricks and Renee Imamura said they weren’t interested in moving forward with the idea in any capacity, though the majority voiced interest in continuing to develop the concept, even if it wasn’t an immediate priority.

“I’m open to looking at it and continuing to move forward with it just to see,” Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “We don’t have to be married to the idea. But I think it’s still worth exploring.”

Silverthorne opts out of marijuana hospitality and delivery measures

SILVERTHORNE — The Colorado State General Assembly recently passed two bills that expand the marijuana business. House Bill 19-1230 allows for marijuana to be used in certain licensed hospitality establishments.

House Bill 19-1234 allows for marijuana delivery. While Breckenridge town council decided to move forward with a limited opt-in to House Bill 19-1230, the Silverthorne Town Council has decided to opt out of both measures.

Council passed an ordinance on first reading to opt-out of the measures at the regular town council meeting on Wednesday Jan. 22.