Breckenridge’s marijuana on Main Street debate to be settled by voters
July 25, 2014
Town of Breckenridge residents will once again vote on retail marijuana.
Last November voters in the town overwhelming supported Amendment 64. This time the issue will be more specific.
A narrow vote margin and a sometimes tumultuous debate surrounding the future of marijuana in Breckenridge's Main Street district prompted the town council to turn the matter over to voters.
On Tuesday night council voted 6-1 to pass a resolution that puts into motion an item that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. Mayor John Warner cast the lone dissenting vote, standing by his belief that retail marijuana should remain outside the town's Main Street district and overlay.
“We support the decisions of the council and the voters of this town. We are simply asking for a fair and equal opportunity to present those same options to the visitors of our wonderful town.”
representing three shops on Airport Road: Alpenglow, Organix and Breckenridge Organic Therapy
The vote came on the heels of the council voting 6-1 on the first reading of an ordinance allowing Breckenridge Cannabis Club to continue operating on Main Street until at least Feb. 2, 90 days after the election.
Without the extension, BCC would have been forced to vacate the district by the end of August.
Two weeks ago, Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe voted against any extension for BCC. She was also one of the members who voted last year on an ordinance forcing the removal of BCC or any potential pot shop from operating on Main Street. She's maintained that retail pot on Main Street could alter the character of the district.
"I'm nervous voting yes on any of these issues," Wolfe said. "But I like the idea of taking it to the voters and letting them decide."
Councilman Gary Gallagher, who voted along with Wolfe two weeks ago, first suggested the idea.
"My concern at the moment is the decision to allow pot stores on Main Street will probably be decided by a 4-3 vote," Gallagher said. "Clearly a 4-3 vote is not a mandate … At the end of the day, if it's still a 4-3 vote, I would say it's best to take it to the voters.
"That's not abdicating responsibility. This is an instance where it's good leadership to take it to the voters."
The bulk of the council was on board and soon put that plan in motion.
They did so before a crowded house. Scores of concerned citizens crammed into the council meeting chambers. There was even a film crew from Austin, Texas, working on a documentary about the legalization of marijuana. Their cameras caught the emotional side of the debate when citizens voiced their opinions on the matter.
"This is a total disregard for everything we've been trying to do in this community," said art gallery owner Gary Freeze.
At one point he turned to Councilwoman Elizabeth Lawrence and said "you are taking us down a path to the lowest level."
This was the culmination of two weeks of alleged verbal and written criticism incurred by council members who voted at the last meeting to look at allowing pot shops downtown.
"It's been a painful couple of weeks," said Councilman Ben Brewer. "I'm considered one of the four who want to ruin Main Street."
He likened the current climate to the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s.
"The Salem witch trials were OK for everyone who lived in the village, unless you happened to be a witch," he said.
While a bulk of the comments focused on what's right for the future of Main Street, another faction is also involved. There are three other retail pot shops currently located on the north end of town on Airport Road. They feel they aren't on a level playing field, with BCC being the only shop downtown.
Katherine Grimm, representing the three shops, Alpenglow, Organix and Breckenridge Organic Therapy, told council her clients would like a chance to discuss the issue further with council.
"We support the decisions of the council and the voters of this town," Grimm said. "We are simply asking for a fair and equal opportunity to present those same options to the visitors of our wonderful town. If that opportunity presents itself on Main Street, then we simply request a level of restriction that allows us to find viable locations without displacing existing businesses."
Grimm wants council members, who now must hash out the language on the November referendum, to ensure that the new law, if passed by voters, doesn't disenfranchise or keep other pot shops from moving onto Main Street.
Council discussed some of the possible restrictions. Those include capping the total number of pot shops in town at the current number of five (that includes medicinal), having no more than one shop per block in the downtown district and a distance requirement such as no shop being located less than 500 feet from schools or halfway houses.
But citizens will have to wait until the Aug. 12 meeting to see what council comes up with for the November ballot.
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