Are pot opportunities going up in smoke?
Tourists may choose towns embracing recreational marijuana sales
Over bluegrass weekend in June, the Telluride Bud Co. turned away 364 people wanting to sample recreational marijuana.
On Telluride Blues and Brews Festival weekend in September, the medical marijuana dispensary had to disabuse 292 potential customers.
The pot seekers were under the mistaken impression that sales of recreational marijuana were already legal under Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Adam Raleigh, owner of Telluride Bud Co., believes his business will expand two to three times on the earliest date for legal sales of nonmedical marijuana, New Year’s Day 2014.
“I do believe the tourism is going to be there, 100 percent,” Raleigh said.
The typical out-of-state tourist tells him, “I heard you guys passed a marijuana law. I haven’t done it since high school, college. I would just like to try it out again. It’s been 20, 30 years.”
During ski season, Raleigh heard tourists say things like, “Guess what, honey? Next year, we’re definitely coming back to Telluride. We were planning on skiing in Utah. I think we’re coming back to Colorado.”
Telluride and San Miguel County are outliers, among a dozen or so cities and counties in Colorado to begin taking applications for business licenses as early as Tuesday, Oct. 1, allowing budding entrepreneurs to begin selling recreational pot on Jan. 1, 2014.
The other city and county governments are Denver, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Edgewater (on Tuesday), Frisco, Glendale, Larimer County, Nederland, Northglenn, Summit County, Pueblo County, Ridgway and Steamboat Springs, according to a list compiled by Sensible Colorado, a group that advocates for marijuana to be regulated like alcohol.
Rachel Allen, staff attorney for the Colorado Municipal League, estimated there were another dozen or so cities that are still finalizing ordinances to allow for retail marijuana establishments.
Closer to Durango, the town of Silverton anticipates taking business licenses for recreational marijuana soon after the New Year, said Brian Carlson, the town administrator.
Silverton at the moment does not have a medical marijuana dispensary, but it does have a medical marijuana grow site with a license for making marijuana-infused products, though production has been temporarily halted to allow for modifications to its site, Carlson said.
In La Plata County, marijuana advocates are fuming that Durango and county are missing out “on the biggest capitalist opportunity in the history of capitalism!” lamented “Rasta Stevie” Smith.
Smith has taken to quoting Jamaican singer Bob Marley: “In the abundance of water, only the fool is thirsty.”
Medical marijuana is already big business in Durango, said Smith, who formerly managed a local dispensary.
Last year, Durango’s nine medical marijuana dispensaries had sales of about $5 million, based on the city receiving $149,000 in taxes from its 3 percent sales tax.
The approach of Durango and La Plata County is not to ban recreational pot, a local option exercised by many towns such as Bayfield and Ignacio, but to put moratoriums in place. Durango’s expires on July 1, 2014, and La Plata County’s expires on Jan. 1, 2015.
Because it takes about three months to go through the license application process, a recreational pot business might not open its doors in Durango until the autumn of 2014 or in the county until spring 2015, Smith said.
It’s conceivable that marijuana-seekers will be going up the winding mountain road to Silverton for their fix.
Because Amendment 64 passed by more than 60 percent in Durango and La Plata County, Smith argues that local leaders are not being responsive to the voters.
Montezuma County has banned commercial sales of recreational and medical marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county citing the drug’s illegal status with the federal government. Recent pleas by farmers interested in growing the formerly forbidden foliage have drawn some interest.
“If it were for hemp, that might be different,” said commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “I vote to continue our ban on commercial sales.”
Over the summer, the city of Cortez adopted a moratorium on all new medical and recreational dispensaries, with officials saying there were too many unknowns regarding how state legislators would implement a voter-approved mandate to reform marijuana prohibition laws. The moratorium is set to expire next June.
“Amendment 64 gives people in Colorado the right to both consume and possess marijuana, but it doesn’t mean someone has the right to purchase it here in Cortez,” said City Manager Shane Hale.
Cortez medical marijuana business owner Paul Coffey supported the city moratorium until state officials adopt proper guidelines and procedures, but he, too, predicted customers from near and far would flood recreational dispensaries once they open their doors.
“As a business owner, the one thing we can guarantee is that somebody will be in the very first day we open,” he said. “The revenues, they aren’t speculative. The money is guaranteed from the first day.”
In Dolores an ordinance bans medical marijuana licences and operations. The state is allowing current medical marijuana centers to hold recreational permits for pot, but that is not permitted in Dolores.
“At this point the state has not fully developed regulations, so once the state establishes those rules then we could take another look at the issue,” said Anne Swope, Dolores administrative clerk.
Mancos officials also have adopted a moratorium on recreational sales that is set to expire at the end of the year.
Raleigh, the owner of the medical marijuana dispensary in Telluride, said the attitude was that “San Miguel County voted 79.4 percent in favor (of Amendment 64), there’s no reason to stop it from happening, the people spoke.”
“Listen, we’ve had medical marijuana in this town for over three years. We’ve had no problem integrating them into our culture,” Raleigh said. “We’ve had no crime increase, no major problems.”
In Durango and La Plata County, elected officials have emphasized moratoriums are intended to give staff adequate time to draft appropriate legislation and for the public hearing process for adopting ordinances.
The moratoriums could end sooner depending how fast the process is completed, officials have said.
Because of local controversies, such as businesses objecting to a medical marijuana dispensary locating in the heart of the tourist area of Main Avenue or in their same commercial or office building, Durango officials are also considering legislation to address local concerns, such as the proper location for marijuana businesses.
Cortez Journal staff writers Jim Mimiaga and Tobie Baker contributed to this report.