Marijuana enforcement at ski areas on federal land a priority, says Forest Service rep

We recently reported about the controversy over an Arapahoe Basin executive announcing that skiers caught smoking marijuana in public at the resort could lose their lift ticket -- a warning that stirred plenty of controversy. But one important factor may not have been fully considered by those on either side of the issue: Arapahoe Basin, like most Colorado ski areas, is on federal land. Moreover, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman stresses that pot is illegal in such places -- and stopping its use remains a priority.

As we've reported, Arapahoe Basin was the first Colorado ski area to open for the 2013 ski season.

Shortly thereafter, A-Basin chief operating officer Al Henceroth wrote a blog post entitled "Marijuana." It reads:
For good or bad, Colorado is notorious for the passing of Amendment 64 legalizing limited marijuana usage. I recently saw Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly making fun of Coloradans on The Daily Show. A very important piece of the new law clearly states that marijuana usage in public is still illegal. A-Basin is a public place and you cannot smoke marijuana here.

Already I have kicked several people out of here and taken their ski passes for smoking in public. Those passes will be gone for a very long time. We will not hesitate to call the cops on this issue.

Marijuana smokers, please use your heads on this. You cannot smoke marijuana in public while at A-Basin.
Henceroth's post, and a sequel, attracted plenty of commentary, with some of those weighing in happy about his stance and others finding it over the top, even though public consumption of cannabis is prohibited in Colorado under language included in Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.

A64 has no impact on federal laws that make marijuana illegal. That's important, since, according to the Summit Daily, 22 of Colorado's 25 major ski resorts are either wholly or largely located on federal land.

"There are some cases where the parking lots aren't on federal land and the ski area is," notes Chris Strebig, media officer for the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region. "But in most cases, the entire resort is on forest service land."

As such, pot-reform action taken by voters in Colorado and Washington state has no impact at places like Arapahoe Basin.

Continue to read more about marijuana use at ski areas on federal land. "Nothing has changed as far as federal lands and federal buildings go," Strebig says. "The forest service has a law enforcement organization that's made up of rangers in forests or individual districts, and they're mandated to enforce federal laws and regulations on National Forest Service lands.

"It's the same for ski areas" as marijuana use would be "on a campground or any other place on federal land," he continues. "Resorts have a special use permit, but they're still on federal lands."

Is stopping the consumption or possession of marijuana on federal lands an important part of the Forest Service mission?

"It is a priority," Strebig allows, "and we do hear from ski areas about it, because their special-use permits require them to adhere to all federal laws."

Such edicts call for citations that typically carry a minimum fine of $250 and a possible court summons, and a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

Even so, Strebig maintains that ski resorts on federal land are more interested in "educating their visiting guests" than having them busted by federal agents.

"We want to make sure people visiting National Forest system lands enjoy themselves, and do so safely," he says. "The White River National Forest, where many of Colorado's ski areas are located, is the most visited forest in the U.S. thanks to all these world-class ski areas, and it's important to us that people follow the laws and, of course, have fun while they're visiting. And one way we'll get there is through working with our ski-area partners and educating the public -- folks who come from all over the country and the world to ski in Colorado -- about what's okay and what isn't."

As for those who choose to disregard the federal laws, Strebig says, "I guess it's just like potentially breaking any law: Do it at your own risk. But for us, nothing has changed. People who possess marijuana at a ski area, campground or forest-service land will still be subject to a fine."

Or possibly more.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Arapahoe Basin exec stirs debate with warning about public pot smoking."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts