Grand Lake keeps pot talks on front burner
Trustees cover what it would take to lift ban on retail marijuana
Even if town leaders aren’t ready to end Grand Lake’s prohibition on recreational marijuana stores, the continued discussions among the board of trustees signal their willingness to entertain the idea.
“No decision is being made tonight by the board whether the moratorium will be lifted,” Town Manager John Crone told the town board before trustees again dove into pot talks Monday night.
The town enacted its ban on retail marijuana sales in 2013 via town ordinance. No decision was made about overturning that ban Monday, but the board’s ongoing discussions show that town leaders are more agreeable than ever to look at what retail pot sales could mean for Grand Lake.
For some, it’s a matter of control.
“My thought is that I’d rather control it than have it right outside of town,“ Trustee Ernie Bjorkman said. “To me, it’s dollars and cents; it’s not that I go out and smoke marijuana all the time.”
Many who favor ending the town ban see the county’s approval for a marijuana store outside Granby and Winter Park’s recent move to allow marijuana sales in town as signs that times are changing and they need to change with them. They worry about a store being approved outside Grand Lake town limits and outside the jurisdiction of town code.
In public comments, residents supporting legal marijuana sales said that marijuana is a viable medicine, the taxes from it would be nice and having to drive 45 minutes or more to get their medicine isn’t just a minor inconvenience.
They said that marijuana can help reduce illicit drug use over the long run and that it’s been proven to reduce the prevalence of other substances such as meth, heroin or opioids. They said that many people who use marijuana products are good members of their community.
However, Trustee Tom Bruton disagreed with Bjorkman as he cited his long experience as an undercover narcotics officer in arguing against allowing marijuana sales.
For his part, Bruton said that marijuana is a gateway drug and that allowing retail sales would fundamentally change the atmosphere of Grand Lake.
“I think that if you allow marijuana in this town, it’s going to change the atmosphere of this town,“ Burton said. ”It’s going to bring in a different type of folk … There are other ways to make money where we don’t have to turn to something that is still, by federal law, against the law. They can come in and close anyone and everyone down at any time. The Feds can do anything they want. Believe me.“
Also voicing an opinion against trustees ending the moratorium, Trustee Cindy Southway said she would rather see Grand Lake electors end the moratorium by a vote, not see it done by a decision of the town board.
At some moments, Monday’s public discussion felt like a back and forth between Bruton and some of the people in the audience who favored lifting the moratorium and challenged his remarks.
They contended that marijuana is a more family friendly drug than alcohol, which is dispensed during many town events with children, and they argued that heavily regulated dispensaries are a far cry from the illegal pot sales of years past.
Others in the audience asked trustees to end the discussion now, saying that they too fear what marijuana sales might do to Grand Lake. They argued that Grand Lake would need to make huge investments to enforce the law and collect local taxes if retail sales are allowed in town.
Additionally, Crone read a statement during Monday’s meeting from officials at Rocky Mountain National Park saying that marijuana was an issue in the park before legalization and that it continues to be a problem now. The park advised against allowing retail sales in Grand Lake, adding that park officials believe it could spark an increase in pot violations inside the federal park.
While the discussion could draw on federal issues, it also might come down to financial considerations too.
Crone told trustees that if Grand Lake decides to allow retail sales, the town would receive its cut of the state’s 15% marijuana sales tax, in addition to the town’s existing 5% sales tax.
Beyond that, Grand Lake could also look to impose a town tax on marijuana sales, he said.
“It seems like a 5% marijuana sales tax is the generally accepted tax rate and common, which would be in addition to the town’s existing 5% sales tax,” Crone told trustees.
However, Crone also acknowledged that any new tax would need voter approval.
Framing the conversation for trustees Monday, Crone had a list of 16 considerations the town would need to address at some point if Grand Lake trustees want to lift the moratorium.
Some of them included setting up local tax collections and deciding whether that money should be directed toward anything specific or funneled into the town’s general fund. Others would go toward the allowable locations, number of stores, the maximum allowable size of the stores, their hours of operation, licensing and fees, local inspections, signage restrictions and more.
“If the board chooses to lift the moratorium, there’s a lot involved in this,” Crone said.
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