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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.”

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