Council dealt a full house for public hearing
After more than three hours of public comment and council discussion, the Crested Butte Town Council approved an ordinance Monday night regulating the retail sale, testing and production of recreational marijuana in town. The ordinance keeps pot shops off of Elk Avenue but will allow it in both the C-zone and in the B-2 business zone along Sixth Street. Shops can be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. No more than five distribution locations will be allowed throughout town but any one location will be permitted to service medical or recreational clients or both through dual licensing.
Facing an overflow crowd that spilled out of the council chambers and into the hallway, mayor Aaron Huckstep said, “It is great to have a room full of people here. We all want to have a productive discussion.”
About 30 members of the public spoke to the council both for and against and the expansion of the marijuana business in Crested Butte.
Local parent Jennifer Hartman started off the discussion going through scores of questions about the issue. Pointing out that the state had published its rules governing recreational marijuana less than two weeks ago, she said the council should slow down and find out answers to questions ranging from who will monitor advertising limits, will genetically modified marijuana be allowed in town, will people be allowed to publicly consume a marijuana lollipop in town and how much will increased law enforcement cost. “What happens if someone throws that lollipop away and a kid or a dog gets it? The stakes are high in Crested Butte and the penalties should be harsh,” she said.
Gabi Prochaska read a letter to the council from the Crested Butte Community School Site Accountability Committee. “The committee is seriously concerned with the rapid pace of the council action,” she said. “There has been little engagement between the town and the school on this issue. It appears that the risk to students will be exacerbated with the town direction. The town should address the need for drug education. We encourage the council to slow down and take some more time to engage the parents and the school community.”
Parent Teacher Association president Sally Johnson echoed some of those concerns. “We feel this ordinance will adversely impact the children of this community,” she said. “Marijuana has a detrimental effect on the development of children’s brains and can be addictive. We ask for a limit on edibles and things that would appeal to children.”
Jason Worf, director of the Colorado Springs Cannabis Council said based on some studies, the implication of marijuana hurting brain development is inaccurate. Worf represents one of the dispensaries in town and argued that no matter where pot shops are eventually allowed, the hours of operation should be uniform. He also asked the council to allow “virtual separation” if allowing dual licensing for medial and recreational marijuana. This would allow for recreational and medical marijuana to be sold in the same location.
Local resident and commercial zone property owner Harvey Castro was concerned about a telephone survey conducted by opponents of marijuana business expansion. “That survey was obviously meant to create fear,” he said. “It trivialized the previous discussions held by the council on the issue. As far as I’m concerned, this is about adult use of marijuana and not about children. We’re not protecting children by hiding all the marijuana business over on one little section of Belleview in the C-zone. Parents for generations have tried to protect their kids against things like alcohol and cigarettes. View this ordinance as the regulatory use of adult marijuana. You can’t just shove all this stuff in the C-zone.”
Resident Scott Howard said he was one of the concerned citizens who commissioned the Sunday survey. “People surveyed feel Amendment 64 was a good thing for Colorado,” he said. “But the voters here that supported 64 want you to slow down and consider the specifics of what you’re doing.”
Crested Butte Wellness Center manager Parker McCloud told the council that even if dispensaries were allowed on Elk Avenue, he didn’t think his dispensary would make the move. citing the higher rent as one reason. He also made it clear that the dispensaries “don’t pander to children.”
Amber Knight McCloud manages a retail boutique in town and is constantly asked by tourists about legalized pot in Colorado. “They want to know how they can purchase pot legally in town,” she said. “I hear about the fear of what tourists will think and I honestly don’t think it will be a black cloud. People see this as a scary move. It’s not. People like it, even in resort towns that cater to families. People of all ages from places like Texas and Oklahoma are curious about it.”
Acme dispensary regional manager David Niccum reemphasized that keeping the product away from kids was a priority. “We are very supportive about getting the word out about locking up the product. We want to be responsible and help parents,” he said. “We want to be responsible business owners and we want to take the fear away.”
Local parent Edie Gibson, who helps run the New Adams House, a rehab facility near Crested Butte, would rather not see legalization. “Is there really a need for the high number of venues being allowed by the council in this ordinance?” she asked. “I’m opposed to legalizing marijuana but do we need that many? I see recovering addicts every day of my life. Legalizing marijuana will impact the youth of our community. It will have far reaching impacts. Slow down and really think about this.”
Sea Level Spa owner Mike Jachowski said he regularly has older, respectable clients asking where they can buy a joint. “People come to town and want to relax,” he said. “If they can’t get a joint, they go to the liquor store and get a nice bottle of wine. There are 30-something liquor establishments on Elk Avenue and as far as I can see, alcohol is far worse than marijuana. I’ve never had a friend die from using marijuana but I have lost friends to alcohol. The arguments tonight sound like the arguments made during the prohibition era. Whether it’s alcohol or marijuana, both are fundamentally drugs. To argue against marijuana tonight and go home for a glass of wine is a bit hypocritical.”
Attorney Josh Kappel reassured the council that many of the questions being raised by the public had been answered in the state regulations. “There are regulations for child-proof packaging,” for example, he said. “There are testing regulations, advertising limits and labeling requirements. You are looking at an opportunity to take a new approach to marijuana.”
Procheska again encouraged the council to move slower. “The opposition is not based in fear. But we’re going from prohibition to where we are with alcohol in one step. You need a deeper discussion over the long term costs,” she said.
Mt. Crested Butte resident Moss Wagner told the council to “hang tough. The state has come a long way. I’m not proud of my council in Mt. Crested Butte caving like a cheap beach chair. This can be a good thing for respectable tourists.”
Jennifer Ryan reminded the council that the council had received more than 50 emails in the previous 48 hours voicing opposition to any expansion. Many were clients of her and her husband’s business, Iron Horse Property Management. “There is a huge amount of opposition to this from second homeowners,” she said. “Think carefully about this and keep it off Elk Avenue.”
Echoing that sentiment, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory owner Nancy Reimer said much of her clientele hails from more conservative states like Texas and Oklahoma. “They will have a hard time walking up Elk past a marijuana store with their children or grandchildren,” she said.
Local restaurant owner Peter Maxwell agreed. “Be cautious of the effect it will have on people who come here from places who don’t agree with it,” he said. “This might adversely impact a lot of businesses that rely on tourism. I understand it is here to stay but Elk Avenue is not the place.”
Second homeowner John Simmons spoke to the council and said, “I love that this debate is happening. My friends from Texas aren’t against this but they are against it on Elk Avenue. There could be economic impacts.”
Bill Tunkey said he too was a second homeowner in Crested Butte. “The key is moderation,” he said. “This is a great message being sent by the town but go with moderation. All of my friends from Texas or Oklahoma either support it or smoke it and not one would stop coming here because you pass this. So let it roll. And I’ve got grandkids here and I’m not scared.”
Chamber of commerce executive director Dan Marshall said he had an overwhelming response to a three-question survey he had sent to chamber members. He said the survey had probably been shared with non-chamber members but essentially, 53 percent did not want to see retail marijuana shops on Elk Avenue. “The Elk Avenue discussion generated the most heat,” he said. “The overall message seemed to be slow down and keep it off Elk.”
Tobacconist owner John Penn thought retail marijuana outlets will bring more money to town. “It needs to be controlled but it should come out of the back alleys.”
Yoga for the Peaceful owner Monica Mesa said marijuana was considered by many to be “a sacred, medical herb. There is tons of documentation on the benefits of marijuana. My business sits across the street from a bar that sometimes gets loud. There’s a baby store (Lavish Petite] next to the Talk of the Town. What’s the difference? A teacher once told me that decisions should be based on growth, not fear. You can’t push this under the rug.”
Former County Commissioner Jim Starr reminded the council that the issue was one that had been discussed at length. “I’d encourage that you make a decision tonight. I’m in favor of allowing it on Elk.”
Allen Hadley owns a window store next to one of the dispensaries on Belleview. “I’m here to say they are good neighbors,” he said. “They have a good attitude and the odor can be dealt with effectively. That’s not to say we can’t sometimes smell it in our space but second homeowners have all been very accepting when they smell it. They make jokes. It is becoming more acceptable as part of the overall society. I read Busted in the Butte and it seems to me that most people in there are there because of alcohol more than marijuana.”
Parent Caren Carroll reiterated the message of slowing down. “Start small and smart instead of fast and furious,” she recommended. “It is harder to draw back once you’ve allowed something.”
Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project director Matthew Kuehlhorn said his concerns were that based on their surveys, local kids were seeing less risk with drug use in the last couple of years. That could be from the acceptance of marijuana in town. “From our end, education is important. It is also important to support the parents and students. It is the whole community at play here.”
Attorney Sarah Wines has worked as a child advocate and with juvenile delinquents in the area. “They tend to engage in bad behavior because they are bored. Kids here have so few places to just hang out but Elk Avenue is one. Why allow places of risk in a place where our kids congregate?”
“We don’t have to be on the forefront of this,” said Elk Avenue resident and local banker Lucy Zavala. “The stores aren’t even allowed to have bank accounts. It’s a cash business. Until the feds get it together we’re really not there yet. Go slow.”
“You can never answer all the questions in any situation,” said Castro. “At some point you have to take the leap of faith into the unknown and tweak it.”
Local property manager Steve Ryan suggested taking the current three active permits and allowing them to have dual licensing privileges for medical and retail marijuana. “That way you keep it off Elk and don’t cram Belleview,” he said. You address both recreational and medical marijuana and cut down on the number of outlets.”
Finally, Ken Buck said he had recently moved to Crested Butte “from the blue county in Texas. I have three kids and I’m not for it being on Elk Avenue,” he said. “The school has grown something like 15 percent this year. When considering the economics, think of the people with families moving here. There are a lot of out-of-state newcomers. Tourism is huge but think of the impact of families not moving here if Crested Butte is not seen as a family place.”
Huckstep asked if there were any more public comments and when not hearing any, closed the public portion of the meeting. He explained that under state rules, “No matter what, you won’t see much change to the status quo until October 1 of 2014 at the earliest.
“It is crystal clear that the council will allow retail shops in the C-zone,” he said. “The question now is whether the town will allow it on Elk Avenue.”
Councilperson Jim Schmidt was the first to address the crowd. “I read a lot of fear in the emails we received,” he said. “It was similar to what we hear when we were discussing medical marijuana. It was similar to what the council heard in 1992 when we passed an anti-discrimination ordinance on sexual preference. People always say the tourists from Texas and Oklahoma will stop coming here. Well, they keep coming. For me, I would prefer to not have any limit on the permits. I’d prefer the free market to deal with it. How many liquor stores can there be on Elk? As many as there can be. But when I got here there were three and now there is one. I think the market will be conservative given the costs.
“Now I certainly have heard lots of people say they don’t want it on Elk Avenue and as a compromise I can support not putting it there. I personally don’t think it will matter but I will listen to the people. However, I would think it should be allowed in the B-2 zone on Sixth Street.”
“At the last meeting I was in favor of allowing it in all the business zones,” said councilperson David Owen. “I agree with Harvey’s point that it shouldn’t be confined to Belleview. But I also understand Sarah Wines point that Elk can be considered almost a park where kids hang out. After hearing that I’d agree with Jim but allow it in the B-1 business zone and include the zero-block of Elk.
“After speaking to a lot of kids in town the last few weeks the children in town are exposed to marijuana at a shockingly young age,” Owen continued. “I think it is beneficial to bring it out in the light of day and make sure the message is sent that it is a legal adult activity.”
Councilman Shaun Matusewicz emphasized that the state regulations were pretty thorough. He said it’s been conveyed that the current dispensaries would likely apply for dual licenses and not necessarily move over to Elk. “But I am for the free market and treating it like alcohol. I’m in favor of expanding it to all business zones including Elk,” he said.
“Part of the reality is that people who go to Belleview may not want to go into a marijuana store on Elk,” said Councilperson Roland Mason. “There is still a stigma in buying marijuana, whether it is legal or not.”
“I’m willing to go with Jim’s concession and keep it off Elk but allow it in the C and B-2 zones,” said Councilperson Glenn Michel.
“I think it is a mistake to put it in any tourism zone, including B-2,” said Councilperson John Wirsing. “Let’s maintain what we have and not open it further. As the country’s attitude changes, we can expand. There is no need for urgency. Let’s stay slow.”
“I think we were all waiting for this type of input,” said Councilperson Mason. “I’m falling along the lines of Jim and David. It allows venues in different parts of town. I’m willing to hold off on the B-1 zone. I don’t see a major benefit of allowing them on Elk.”
“I think going to B-2 is a good way to expand,” said Huckstep. “I think over time we will see it expand into B-1 but now is not the time.”
After more discussion on whether to allow it at the west end of Elk Avenue, the council majority agreed to expand it only onto the B-2 Sixth Street area.
The council pulled back on the number of permits being allowed and jumped on the dual license track. They agreed that five total permits would be allowed in town but those permits could be shaped to sell both medical and recreational marijuana.
“Any expansion of use, even in the current dispensaries in the C-zone, will have to go through BOZAR and get a conditional use permit,” said Michel. They will have to have things like adequate parking. That’s another check in the system.”
When it came to hours of operation, Matusewicz lobbied for liquor store hours. Wirsing lobbied to keep the current dispensary hours that mandate a 7 p.m. closing time.
“We’ve had harmony in the C-zone and we want to keep harmony,” said Huckstep.
“Eight o’clock is completely reasonable and isn’t much different from 7,” said Mason. “It won’t be as big of an impact as 10 o’clock or midnight.”
“In summer, you might still be out on a bike ride at 8 o’clock,” said Matusewicz.
“Not if you want your weed,” responded Wirsing to laughter.
The council went with an 8 p.m. closing time for the ordinance.
They also put limits on advertising that made it clear that appealing to minors was not allowed.
The council all voiced a strong desire to impose a fee or excise tax and use some of that money for children’s drug education. The council asked the staff to investigate the best ways to raise that money.
Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 to approve the ordinance, with Wirsing voting against it.