“We should not be making decisions based in fear…”
The Crested Butte Town Council appears to be leaning toward allowing the retail sale of marijuana throughout the town’s business districts. That would include Elk Avenue and Sixth Street as long as the shops meet required setbacks from schools and parks.
As part of the ordinance regulating the sale, production and testing of the herb, the council is looking at a variety of other aspects of legalizing marijuana including what limits to put on advertising, hours of operation and the number of shops allowed.
The council isn’t ready to allow “smoking dens” or cultivation operations in town at this time. A second public hearing on the matter will be held Monday, September 16.
State voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana last November and local governments are dealing with the new quandary of overseeing retail marijuana.
Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin drew up a lengthy ordinance dealing with marijuana regulation and the council debated how to adjust it, taking public comment on the issue at the September 3 council meeting.
Crested Butte resident Harvey Castro read a letter outlining his concerns to the council. As an owner of property in the Commercial District (C-zone), he didn’t want a “drug ghetto” on Belleview. “Instead, make the facilities a part of the business mix in town,” he said. “In reality, the C-zone that would allow this is just a block and a half. There aren’t a lot of places for shops to go over there. One thing that baffles me is that this council denied a doctor’s office in the C-zone but now you’re going to allow all the pot shops over there? How sick is that?”
Acme Dispensary manager Stephanie Cantu said she felt the council shouldn’t try to hide the marijuana business over in the commercial district. “You guys say you don’t want to scare tourists away? On average, we probably get 12 tourists in every day just checking us out. So many out-of-state people come in. If you are afraid of putting it on Elk, I’d reconsider that,” she said.
Cantu also took issue with the council trying to seemingly hide the sale of marijuana from local teenagers.
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“I don’t know if the statistic saying that teen smoking is increasing is true or not but isn’t it the parents’ job to educate their kids?” she asked. “Hiding anything like that usually makes it more mysterious and attracts teens.”
Where might they go?
Council members delved into some of the details of the proposed ordinance. The staff had provided a map showing where marijuana-related shops would be allowed, given legal setbacks.
“For me, looking at this map, I’d like to see it permitted in all the appropriate business zones on the map,” said Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz.
“I agree,” said Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “I drive into Boulder or Denver and the shops are interspersed with other businesses. It doesn’t diminish the neighborhood. I don’t think it would hurt anything to allow it in the C, B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-4 zones.”
“I think if we are going to allow it, then allow it,” added Councilperson Roland Mason. “I’m not sure of what the impact would be on property values.”
“Permitting what could be up to 17 uses in the C-zone is problematic,” said Councilperson Glenn Michel, “but I would be more cautious on how we roll this out. I think it is wise to garner more public comment at the next meeting.”
“I’m on the side of treating this like any other retail establishment,” said Councilman David Owen. “I’d be in favor of allowing it through all the business zones in town.”
“I’m generally not in favor of the whole concept but if we’re going to let it go on Elk then it should go on the whole of Elk Avenue and not just say at the top of it. Concentration is not the answer,” said Councilperson John Wirsing.
Mayor Aaron Huckstep asked chief marshal Tom Martin about the zoning issue. Martin said, “Until you see it developed out there, you can’t really tell. The current regulations are such that we haven’t had troubles over where the medical marijuana dispensaries are located.”
Gillie said after talking to some owners of the local medical marijuana businesses, “The consensus is that if one goes to Elk, they all go to Elk. That seems to be the natural progression,” he said.
Who is afraid of weed?
Gillie asked the council if testing and production facilities should be allowed in all the business districts or just the retail shops.
Owen felt that keeping testing and production to the C-zone was “logical.”
“I disagree,” said Matusewicz. “There seems to be a culture of fear over all this. We have Montanya running a rum distillery on Elk Avenue, after all. The Eldo has a brewery that is manufacturing beer, for example.”
“The difference is that the state is saying you can’t have a retail marijuana outlet where you produce things like edibles,” said Gillie. “It is different from Montanya’s in that you would lose sales-tax-generating locations.”
“I just remember that before medical marijuana was legal, there was a fear the town would be overrun with dispensaries, so the town limited it to five permits,” said Matusewicz. “The reality is that there are just three here. We need to get over the fear. Five years from now, we’ll wonder why it took so much time and discussion. Let’s look at the facts and not at the fear.”
“It’s not fear. But it is an unknown,” responded Mason. “How big is a production and manufacturing facility? What are the parameters? Until I know, I want to keep that in the C-zone.”
“Production facilities for edibles would have to meet the regulations of a commercial kitchen,” said Gillie. “The likelihood of someone wanting to manufacture here at all is probably low.”
The consensus of the council was to keep manufacturing and testing facilities limited to the C-zone and allow retail shops in the other business districts.
When might they be open?
A long discussion ensued over operating hours of those retail shops. Michel suggested keeping the current dispensary hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
While Wirsing and Huckstep agreed, Schmidt said he was fine with letting them stay open until 8 p.m. Mason said he thought 10 p.m. was appropriate, especially in the C-zone, where several people lived in second-floor rental units.
“In the interest of fairness, I’d say that whatever time we decide, it should be the same for any marijuana shop in any zone. I’d say 10 is good,” added Owen.
Stephanie Cantu felt the current hours were very appropriate.
Matusewicz was in favor of treating the stores just like liquor stores and allowing them the option of remaining open until midnight. “Just grabbing numbers out of the air is not the way to do this,” he said.
Jason Worf, director of Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, said the Colorado voters “voted to mimic liquor stores. If you limit the hours, you might be limiting some job opportunities as well.”
“Crested Butte will have some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the nation, if not the world,” said Michel. “It’s not fear that we’re talking about all this. It’s prudence. Let’s hold back a little.”
“To me it’s really simple,” responded Matusewicz. “The state vote was to limit it like alcohol. Eighty-eight percent of the people in Crested Butte voted for it. It’s our job to get there with a defensible reason.”
“We need to be aware that while the voters approved Amendment 64, it won’t be as simple as just opening the doors,” said Huckstep.
The council came to no conclusion about operating hours during the discussion, even though Schmidt said 10 p.m. was a good closing time.
How might they advertise?
When it came to advertising retail marijuana, Matusewicz made it clear there should be limits. “There should be no carte blanche. They can’t be allowed to advertise to children, for example,” he said. “I’d rather have restrictions on advertising and restrict some wording and images.”
“The problem with that is, a liquor store says it’s a liquor store or something like the Wine House,” said Schmidt. “You can’t think of every word or phrase they’ll use. People will be clever. Look at ‘Two Guys with Wieners.’ Retail marijuana is retail marijuana.”
“For me it’s not so much the words but the imagery,” responded Matusewicz. “It can’t in any way be targeted toward children.”
“The biggest complaint we heard when the medical dispensaries opened was the use of lollipops and candy in the ads,” said Wirsing. “It’s too close to attracting kids.”
“I agree with Stephanie’s point that adding an aura of mystique might draw more kids in,” countered Owen. “Treat it and make it clear that these are adult stores.”
“I agree. These people will have made a significant business investment,” said Mason. “I don’t want to restrict the terms too much.”
“It’s a hard one to figure out,” said Huckstep. “We can’t control their names. But I fall on the side of the tighter language. And think about the postcard picture of Elk Avenue. Is it now going to have a bunch of signs with marijuana leafs? Just think about it.”
“We should talk to our business community,” suggested Michel. “It will be part of the iconic image of Crested Butte. Is that what we want?”
“One of the goals is to pass an ordinance at the next meeting,” Gillie reminded the council when debate moved into the second hour.
Michel suggested earmarking some town sales tax on retail marijuana transactions for children’s drug education. “I’d like to capture it now while we’re working on the ordinance,” he said.
Huckstep said an increase in licensing fees and a possible excise tax might be appropriate as well to gather extra income from such sales.
“Two years ago, remember that this was all cutting-edge stuff,” Gillie reminded the council. “It’s all worked pretty well.”
The council will continue the public hearing on Monday, September 16.