Retail marijuana questions remain for Summit County officials looking to regulate pot tourism
The Summit Board of County Commissioners has asked staff to work with the sheriff’s office, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and towns in drafting an ordinance on marijuana issues not specifically addressed by Amendment 64.
The directive was issued following a Tuesday-morning work session with Summit County Sheriff John Minor, 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown and local law enforcement officers at the Old County Courthouse in Breckenridge.
The meeting was initiated by Minor to discuss county policy regarding the definition of public versus private property and how the county wants to regulate pot tourism.
“I just want to go on the record that we have not had any significant marijuana-related issues in unincorporated Summit County so far,” Minor said. “But there’s going to be a potential for some issues, especially around spring break, and I think we want some consistency across the county, so people don’t cross an imaginary line (traveling from town to town) and find themselves dealing with a new set of rules.”
Pot tourism is a relatively new and little-discussed business venture that has appeared since the passage of Amendment 64. It recently raised alarms with Minor when entrepreneurs on the Front Range announced plans to launch bus companies to shuttle people to the mountains and provide complimentary marijuana to their customers in much the same way a limousine company might provide a complimentary bottle of champagne to a newlywed couple.
Minor questioned whether the commission should consider prohibiting marijuana consumption on Summit County’s roads and highways, despite highways being clearly defined by the state as a public space.
According to state law, public space is defined as, “A place to which the public or a substantial number of the public has access, and includes, but is not limited to, highways, transportation facilities, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds and the common areas of public and private buildings.”
But Minor said the pot tourism movement on the Front Range could indicate that there are people who believe the state’s definition of a public place — and a passenger’s right to consume marijuana — could be up for debate.
“This is new territory and there may be enough of a gray area in the law for people to make that argument,” Minor said after the meeting. “The commission may decide to take that into consideration and prohibit roadway consumption in Summit County.”
The conversation then evolved into whether the county wants to be more restrictive than the state in how it defines other public spaces.
Currently, Summit County law enforcement officers have decided to define decks, porches and yards as private property. However, smoking marijuana on a private deck, out in the open, does not stop the odor from traveling into public spaces, Minor said.
With so many parks and open spaces located in close proximity to private homes, in addition to efforts by local resorts to promote themselves as family friendly, Minor said residents and visitors smoking on private decks could result in a rash of nuisance complaints.
Citing Amendment 64 language, which prohibits marijuana consumption that is done “openly and publicly, or in a manner that endangers others,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said she could understand how the public might be concerned about exposure to second-hand marijuana smoke.
“It’s a private deck, so philosophically you should be able to do what you want,” she said. “But I could see how someone with a child with asthma or something might be concerned about a neighbor smoking marijuana out on their deck.”
But Brown said trying to think of and prepare for every single hypothetical scenario would be a “fool’s errand” and recommended any future ordinance should be simple to understand and in line with regulations already drafted by local towns.
“We’re not anticipating an overflow of marijuana-related cases (at the district attorney’s office),” Brown said. “We think the law enforcement community is going to have to look at these types of complaints and exercise their discretion. I expect they will be gentle in their enforcement, unless they find themselves dealing with a repeat offender.”
County staffers will be working with the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, as well as local town officials in compiling countywide marijuana laws.
A draft ordinance will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners in the coming weeks during a regularly scheduled meeting.
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