Colorado and Washington made headlines back on Election Day with statewide votes to legalize marijuana use. Considering the two states also rank among the most popular skiing destinations, the ski areas there have needed to assess the impact of the new state laws. The result appears to be a case of business as usual for skiers and snowboarders in those states.
Several factors make widespread marijuana use on the slopes a virtual impossibility in the foreseeable future. First and foremost, federal law still prohibits use of the drug.
“Where state law conflicts with federal law, the federal law controls. That’s known as the supremacy clause,” said David Cronheim, an attorney who writes a blog about legal issues in the ski industry. “Personally, from a lawyer’s perspective, I think it’s a dangerous proposition when states try to nullify federal law. We fought a civil war over that.”
Even the approved state measures, Amendment 64 in Colorado and Washington Initiative 502, still do not allow the use of marijuana in public such as on resort trails. “So far, it really hasn’t been a big deal for us at all. I think the ban on using it in public has curtailed a lot of potential problems,” said Steve Hurlbert, public relations and communications manager at Winter Park Resort in Colorado.
“Our testing policy with respect to employees has also remained totally unchanged,” he added. “We test someone for drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, when there is reasonable suspicion that the person is under the influence while on the job—all-in-all extremely standard stuff.”
At nearby Arapahoe Basin, Adrienne Saia Issac, the ski area’s marketing and communications manager, expressed a similar response. “The use of marijuana is not permitted at the ski area, and no smoking of any kind is permitted in the lift mazes or on the chairs,” she said. “Patrol handles on-mountain infractions on a case-by-case basis. Consequences of committing any on-mountain infraction may include having your lift ticket or season-pass privileges revoked.”
Sherry Brewer, marketing director at 49 Degrees North in Washington, has not seen any recent impact. She said, “we’d like the least conflict as possible and encourage people not to do it, but if so, we would kick them off the mountain for the day.” An offending season-passholder would generally not have the season pass revoked for any additional period.
According to Kelly Ladyga, vice president of corporate communications at Vail Resorts, the company’s policy at its four Colorado resorts has not changed and it will continue a “zero-tolerance stance” toward reckless behavior on the mountain. “If a guest is found using marijuana on the mountain, they will be removed from the mountain by ski patrol or security, may lose their pass and/or law enforcement may be notified depending on the circumstances,” she said.
John Sellers, marketing and communications director at Loveland Ski Area in Colorado, also said guests caught smoking marijuana there would be escorted from the mountain and possibly face action from law enforcement.
With just a few exceptions, the ski areas in Colorado and Washington operate on federal land through permits from the U.S. Forest Service. In fact, John Walsh, U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, directly addressed marijuana on federal property in response to passage of Amendment 64. “Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses,” he stated in a Dec. 10 press release.
“Copper operates on public lands and therefore has a relationship with the U.S. Forest Service and federal guidelines in matters such as this,” said Austyn Williams, public relations manager at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado.
“Something that a lot of people don’t realize is that the U.S. Forest Service has a law-enforcement arm,” said Cronheim. “If you are in a national forest using marijuana and a U.S. Forest Service law-enforcement official happens to see you, they certainly can write you up for a violation of federal law. Of course, if you’re in any part of the state, you could still be arrested for violating federal drug law. It’s not just if you are on Forest Service land.”
Both Colorado and Washington have other safety and liability laws specifically pertaining to snow sports. The particularly detailed Colorado Ski Safety Act of 1979 states that “no person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person's ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any controlled substance, or other drug.”