Last year, the Dillon Town Council passed a moratorium on retail marijuana establishments in town, opting to wait on clear direction from the state and to possibly benefit from the legislative processes of neighboring municipalities.
During a work session Tuesday, Jan. 21, Dillon officials began the infant stages of drafting retail marijuana regulations. The discussion was led by Dillon town planner Ned West, who was armed with the regulations passed by Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne and by Summit County.
Although the Dillon council seemingly has a road map at its disposal, the legislative process could still prove to be challenging as Dillon officials try to determine in the coming weeks and months what the town’s retail marijuana identity should be.
Up for discussion first was how restrictive town officials wanted to be in terms of the types of retail establishments to permit in Dillon. Amendment 64 identified four permissible businesses, including retail stores and cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities.
Looking at Dillon’s neighbors, West said Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne all passed ordinances permitting retail stores. Breckenridge also approved cultivation facilities. Summit County is the only local governing body that permits all four uses.
Councilmember Louis Skowyra, who has said throughout the process he wants to honor the intention of Amendment 64 to regulate marijuana like alcohol, backed permitting all four uses in Dillon, despite acknowledging the town’s lack of available commercial space.
“I could see us setting ourselves apart from our neighbors by permitting a testing facility downtown,” Skowyra said. “We have a very professional-looking downtown with a lot of office space and in my mind a testing facility fits right in with that concept.”
However, the town lacks standalone commercial space, West said. Standalone commercial space is vital for a testing or cultivation facility because the state requires those establishments to have separate HVAC systems to prevent odors from marijuana or chemicals used for testing from bothering neighboring businesses and residents.
The question of available commercial space rolled into a discussion about setbacks and whether to restrict the location and the number of retail establishments in town.
Generally speaking, West said the county and all of the towns require a 500-foot buffer zone between a retail marijuana establishment and child care facilities, public or private educational institutions, halfway houses or correctional institutions and public parks, recreation centers or publicly owned buildings.
Silverthorne requires a 1,000-foot setback between retail marijuana establishments, regardless of jurisdiction.
Although all of the council members agreed with the need to distance retail marijuana from schools, child care centers and churches, Councilmember Erik Jacobsen pointed out that if Dillon followed the lead of its neighbors, a 500-foot setback would essentially prohibit retail marijuana establishments in the town core.
Councilmember Terry King said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to keeping retail marijuana away from the town core, citing her preference to try to prohibit the creation of a “marijuana row.”
But Councilmember Mark Nickel, jumping off of Skowyra’s desire to regulate marijuana like alcohol, said the town core has been the focus of a lot of effort and investment to encourage new business growth and tourism. With restaurants, bars and a local brewery all selling alcohol in the town center, Nickel questioned whether the council wanted to follow in Breckenridge’s shadow by pushing retail marijuana establishments away from the town’s business hub.
“I think we are going to have a hard time getting everyone to agree on a location that is appropriate and not near a church, school or daycare center,” Nickel said. “I think it comes down to a question of what we really want our downtown to look like.”
Skowyra also questioned the hesitation of permitting retail marijuana downtown, asking if the objection was based on deep-rooted social perceptions.
“Does the fact that we’re talking about a marijuana establishment and not a bar make it more objectionable, less objectionable or about the same?” Skowyra said.
That question may be turned over to the Dillon community. Before the end of the work session, town council members floated the idea of hosting a community meeting to gauge the residents’ marijuana temperature.
The time and date of that meeting is still to be determined, but would have to take place before April 1, when the town will be asking local voters to approve a 5 percent excise tax. The town’s moratorium on retail marijuana establishments is slated to sunset Oct. 1.