Grand Lake forum leads to comparison between drunk, high go-kart drivers

Locals weigh in on lifting town’s ban prohibiting pot businesses

Responding to Grand Lake’s call for feedback, the owner of a go-kart track described the difference between people who get behind the wheel high vs. those who drive his go-karts drunk.

Colorado legalized marijuana sales in January 2014. Since then more than $11.1 billion worth of marijuana has been sold statewide through June 2021. In Grand County, marijuana sales topped $775,000 in June, the most recent month for which figures were available.

None of that pot was sold in Grand Lake, though, because the town maintains a moratorium prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in town.

Seeing a marijuana dispensary preparing to open just outside Granby town limits, Grand Lake’s elected leaders fear the county could approve a pot shop outside their town, which has in turn led them to considering lifting Grand Lake’s moratorium.

Winter Park recently lifted its ban on marijuana businesses, and that’s not gone unnoticed in Grand Lake. Other considerations among Grand Lake trustees have hinged on the lost tax revenue, questions of market fairness and a desire to exercise control over any would-be marijuana businesses in or around town.

Trustees carved out their Monday workshop for a public forum, designed to help gauge public opinion on the pot-button topic.

With just over a half dozen people addressing the board in comments, the workshop actually garnered less attention than expected and got out somewhat early, even though a handful of residents got to speak multiple times.

One of the speakers was David Raffaelli, who’s a longtime local and owner of Rocky Mountain Hi Speedway, a small amusement park in Grand Lake with a go-kart track. Raffaelli voiced an opinion firmly against lifting the ban, and he left little room for compromise as he told trustees it boils down to a moral dilemma.

“Personally, I think it’s an issue of right and wrong,” Raffaelli said. “Are we willing to change the behavior of our people — kids, grownups, etc. — for the benefit of more money? You as individuals, are you willing to give up the choice between what’s right and what’s wrong for money?”

Raffaelli said the correct decisions are not necessarily the easiest, that we are judged by our convictions, the choices we make, and “there is no gray.” Later on, he compared the rule-breakers who come into his business high to those who sneak onto the track drunk.

“Alcohol, I mean they just don’t even find the brake pedal; they just slam right into whatever’s going on in front of them,” Raffaelli said. “Marijuana, you have the start of the race — green light, ‘Go, Go, Go’ — and they’re sitting there, ‘Oh.’

“And then they go. They go about half speed, and they’re in the way. Everyone is zooming around them.”

Raffaelli said that marijuana “makes you stupid” and he’s noticed that stoned go-kart drivers have seriously reduced reaction times. Even though pot sales are happening in Grand County, Raffaelli said Grand Lake “should be the island that does things correctly.”

Speaking before Raffaelli, former Grand Lake mayor and trustee Judy Burke said she has been reading up on the strength of today’s marijuana and believes the town is considering a “dangerous” proposal.

“They’re saying that the marijuana of today is between 10% and 50% more potent than that that maybe some of us used in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Burke warned.

She also said that other towns have lifted their marijuana moratoriums and were forced to create new police departments, costing in excess of $1 million a year.

Trustees have already asked town staff to gather information about resurrecting a marshal service in town. However, that request is related to recent issues with bars and alcohol, not considerations about potential marijuana sales.

At the direction of the board, town staff are now preparing a possible resolution that would lift the moratorium and impose new regulations on marijuana businesses with the expectation there will be another workshop before trustees in the near future.

The biggest concerns expressed by trustees and the mayor during the workshop focused on Grand Lake losing control. Citing the IgadI marijuana dispensary going up just outside Granby, trustees discussed how lifting the moratorium could allow the town to dictate tax rates, hours of operation and acceptable locations.

Mayor Kudron stressed the question: What if a dispensary is approved outside town limits, like what has happened in Granby?

“Does anybody have any thoughts on that?” the mayor asked. “Because it’s a question that, as a board, we don’t have an answer to either … Many community members share the concern.”

In favor of lifting the moratorium, one woman talked about how medicinal marijuana has helped members of her family. She drew a distinction between illicit drugs being brought into the US and the controlled, legal marijuana businesses in Colorado.

“I think it is a personal choice,” she said. “I think there are medical benefits, from children who have had seizures … plants have a place in our lives.”

Still, another Grand Lake woman pleaded with trustees not to lift the moratorium, saying that doing so would harm the town’s family friendly atmosphere. Among the half dozen people who opposed lifting the moratorium, most expressed deep fears marijuana sales would degrade Grand Lake’s family atmosphere.

“I don’t think that by opening up marijuana shops, that’s going to bring more families,” the woman said. “You’re going to have, I don’t know, more of the riff-raft coming in. I sure do hope that you keep Grand Lake healthy, pure and family friendly.”

Additionally, Burke recalled that Grand Lake leaders were so adamant about banning marijuana businesses when the board first voted on the issue years ago that Grand Lake turned down a $1 million park and $500,000 for the Grand Lake Center to keep pot businesses out.

Burke reiterated that marijuana is federally illegally, disallowed inside Rocky Mountain National Park and off-putting for many local businesses. Furthermore, she said that allowing pot sales would fundamentally change Grand Lake from “the way it used to be.”

“If you get marijuana, it’s not the way it used to be,” Burke said. “We have it, sure. But at least it’s not prevalent on the streets or in the hotel lobbies that we’re hearing about now.”

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