For more than two hours on Tuesday afternoon, a lively town council debate sought to answer a philosophical question: What is, and what will be, the character of downtown Breckenridge?
Some argued it’s a family-oriented Main Street designed to cater to the traditional values of Middle American tourists. Others countered that it’s already rife with drinking establishments — a drinking town with a skiing problem, as the saying goes.
However, most seemed to agree the town of Breckenridge isn’t just a ski-town stereotype. It’s more complicated than that.
“This is tough,” said councilwoman Erin Gigliello. “I feel like we’re taking this thing out of context. Breckenridge isn’t just one thing. Breckenridge is Breckenridge because of all the different businesses and people in town that make it up.”
The argument at Tuesday afternoon’s Breckenridge Town Council work session centered on whether to allow the sale of retail marijuana in the Main Street district. Dozens showed up to provide input, but the talk quickly turned to the question of what image the town wants to project, particularly in regard to Main Street and the historic district.
The outcome of the argument was of extra importance to the staff of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club. After operating as a medicinal dispensary for four years on Main Street, the club applied for and received a retail license in the wake of the passage of Amendment 64 last year.
In response, the town council late last year voted 4-1 for an ordinance banning retail pot stores in the downtown core district. The Cannabis Club, which is the only shop located in the district, was told it had to vacate by the end of its current lease. The Sept. 1, 2014, deadline was closing in fast.
But Tuesday’s council gave the local business pause for hope as four of the seven council members voiced their support to draft a new ordinance, along with certain restrictions, allowing the sale of retail marijuana in the town core.
“It’s refreshing,” said Brian Rogers, a general manager with the Cannabis Club. “But there is still a lot of work to do … I’m not holding my breath.”
Councilman Ben Brewer was one of the members throwing his support behind the Main Street pot sales.
“We probably don’t have enough data yet to know what retail pot shops on Main Street will mean for the future of town,” Brewer said. “But I know that since (Breckenridge Cannabis Club) has been in town there has been no issues … I think all the shops in town have behaved admirably. They educate visitors. They are the first people many newcomers and tourists will see. They’ve all been great at educating the public.
“Breck has always been out front on these issues,” he added. “I think we should stay that way. We need to keep the control in our hands.”
Some council members worried that if they did not draft their own ordinance considering the regulation of retail pot downtown, it could get beyond their control. The Cannabis Club has organized a petition to put its own ordinance on an upcoming ballot allowing the business to stay. It has to collect 600 signatures to get the item on the ballot.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe, along with Gary Gallagher and Mayor John Warner, were opposed to allowing the shops to operate on Main Street.
“We don’t need to be a trailblazer,” Wolfe said. “It only takes a little to tear an image apart, but it takes years to build it up. We have a good, positive image. And I don’t want to risk that.”
Gallagher echoed her concern.
“My issue is that this is a family-friendly environment, and I don’t want to jeopardize that,” he said. “I think it’s working good with the shops out on Airport Road.”
Councilmember Elisabeth Lawrence voiced her support in allowing the shops to operate in downtown. She lives near the Airport Road shops and has no issue with the operations.
“I’m not comfortable with regulating morality,” she said. “And I think that is what the opposition is doing.”
While several in attendance argued that they don’t know enough about the effects of retail pot downtown, Councilman Mark Burke argued that there is plenty of history and data on the subject. He referenced the town decriminalizing marijuana possession years ago and the successful implementation of medical, and eventually retail, shops.
“I’m not afraid of change,” Burke said. “We ought to embrace it.”
One argument against allowing the Cannabis Club to stay on Main Street is that it appeared to give an unfair competitive advantage over the Airport Road shops. However, one of those shop owners was in support of new ordinance if competition was allowed.
“Just allowing the retail on the second floor only in Main Street would be OK as long it’s allowed across the board,” said Andy Gibson, owner of Organix, one of several marijuana dispensaries located on Airport Road on the north end of town.
With the bulk of the pot shops now located in a cluster on Airport Road, there was concern the area would transform into a marijuana district, or a “green mile.”
Council members plan to discuss details of the proposed ordinance at the July 22 meeting. Some of the suggested regulations would keep retail pot stores located on Main Street on the second floor only. They also discussed limiting the number of shops allowed in the district to three or four. All of those details await discussion.
Although Warner was one of the three in favor of keeping retail off Main Street, he’s willing to work with everyone on how to implement the new ordinance.
“I want us to move forward and all work together to do what is best with this new vision,” Warner said.
“This is part of Breck’s new history,” Gibson added.
“Breck has always been out front on these issues. I think we should stay that way. We need to keep the control in our hands.”