Shoppers strolling down Main Street in Breckenridge next January hoping to find retail marijuana dispensaries will have to look a little farther.
The Breckenridge Town Council approved an ordinance Tuesday night that mandates there will be no new medical or retail marijuana dispensaries allowed in the downtown overlay district. The one current downtown store, Breckenridge Cannabis Club, will be allowed to operate in its current location until Sept. 1, 2014, when its lease ends.
The ordinance licensing and regulating medical and retail marijuana businesses passed by a 4-1 vote at the regular town council meeting. This was the second reading of the ordinance, which saw significant changes from the first reading two weeks ago. Councilman Ben Brewer cast the one dissenting vote; Councilmembers Wendy Wolfe and Mark Burke were not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
The ordinance states: “Any licensed premises that are lawfully located within the Downtown Overlay District as of this effective date of this Chapter may remain in such location until the first to occur of: the licensee loses legal right to possession of the licensed premises for any reason; or September 1, 2014.”
Brewer was not in favor of eliminating retail sales downtown. He argued the council should reserve its action on a downtown ban for a time when there is “an actual problem to address — at this time there is no public safety issue, and we have a huge public safety issue with alcohol.” He said the law stipulates marijuana should be regulated like liquor, and the council should not make a distinction between the downtown district and any other area of town.
“We’re making a mistake banning it completely in the core,” he said. “We’re taking away someone’s livelihood just because they’ve been smart about their location. As long as we have liquor stores in the core, for me, it’s not proper to eliminate marijuana, if it’s regulated and taxed by 25 percent.”
Cannabis Club co-owner Brian Rogers said making his business close and leave will give drug dealers more opportunity to sell on Main Street. The shop beat out several other applicants for its downtown location, and there were originally more downtown shops, which have since closed.
“We will have marijuana sales downtown, and whether that’s legal and regulated is your choice to make today,” he said. “We’ve been a peaceful and prosperous business for four years. I don’t think the people would ask that you put us out of business.”
Rogers said his business would not survive in the new market as medical alone. Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney had suggested allowing the Cannabis Club to remain downtown as is, with no retail in that location. But Councilman Mike Dudick said he was more concerned about the economical advantage the one downtown dispensary would have over others.
“I don’t want to legislate an economic advantage to you,” he said, addressing Rogers. All five council members were clear this was not a personal decision, but rather part of a larger issue, and that the Cannabis Club has done an exemplary job with transparency, safety and education.
“I’m in no way going to be a moralist about pot,” Dudick said. “But we have to be aware of how other people will judge it.”
Brewer did not believe they would be artificially propping up one business over the others by allowing the downtown store to operate.
Councilman Gary Gallagher compared allowing any dispensaries — medical or retail — to when prostitutes used to run rampant on the Las Vegas strip. He wanted to limit the downtown store to sell only medical marijuana until the end of its lease, with no option for retail sales at that location.
“We can easily educate folks at places like the welcome center,” he said. “I would like to not have either medical or retail dispensaries in our downtown core.”
Current medical marijuana dispensaries can apply for a new license and begin retail sales Jan. 1, 2014. The ordinance allows the Cannabis Club to operate until the end of its current lease, Sept. 1, 2014. Rogers said he would apply for a retail license and operate until September in the current location. The council did not discuss the possibility of denying the Cannabis Club’s retail license application.
Many speakers expressed concerns at the public meeting that Amendment 64 suggests regulating retail marijuana like alcohol. Some people questioned why the council was banning sales downtown with so many bars operating on Main Street. Mayor John Warner said the ordinance and the downtown ban align with the town’s vision plan about community character and family friendly image.
The building’s landlord also expressed concerns about how difficult the upstairs space is to rent, and how making the Cannabis Club leave would also hurt her business.
Charlie Williams, owner of Alpenglow Botanicals, a medical dispensary on Airport Road, said the ordinance was fair to everyone in the business, and that he is doing fine in his location.
Cannabis Club co-owner Caitlin McGuire said the ruling virtually puts her out of business next September. The council unanimously agreed to grandfather them into the location earlier this year, and she and Rogers spend thousands of dollars on marketing and merchandise with their current address.
They currently own a grow garden on Airport Road, but McGuire said that moving the store to that lot would reduce the size of their garden and render her unable to make money on retail sales. Retailers are required to grow at least 70 percent of the product they sell. Strict zoning laws mean there are no other available locations, even throughout Summit County, for Breckenridge Cannabis Club to expand its garden or build a new store.
“Asking us to leave now, or a year from now, puts us at risk of not having a location to move to,” McGuire said.
A local ordinance had to be in place by Oct. 1 in order to allow Breckenridge to regulate retail marijuana in town. The ordinance also stipulates only current medical marijuana dispensaries can apply for a retail license until Jan. 1, 2015. During that time, those licenses can be transferred to other owners. There are no official limits on the number of licenses that can be issued.
Rogers is still hopeful the election in April will result in a new town council allowing his business, and other retail marijuana dispensaries, on Main Street. The ordinance can be amended in the future.
“Council said they wanted to wait to see if attitudes change over the next few years,” he said. “But it’s happening now. Our voters already approved it. We shouldn’t wait. The minute the people make that choice, that’s what we should be doing.”
Brewer echoed those concerns, saying, “I feel strongly that at some point down the road, we’re going to be scratching our heads wondering why we did this tonight.”
Sept. 20 Clarification: In the Sept. 11 article “Breckenridge Town Council passes marijuana ordinance, bans downtown dispensaries” a paragraph about how town councilman Gary Gallagher referenced the Las Vegas strip during a discussion about retail marijuana was unclear. A summary of his metaphor included language which was not his directly. Here is his quote in full: “My thought is personally I would like to not have either medical or retail dispensaries in our downtown core. You know you look at the state of Nevada. Prostitution is legal but you don’t see Houses of the Rising Sun on the strip in Las Vegas. And why is that? It’s because about 15 years ago Las Vegas decided they wanted to become family-friendly, not just be known as a casino destination but also as a family destination and they began to do a lot of other things to attract families, as well as the gamblers, and they were quite successful. I think for the same reasoning, we have amendment 64, I’m fine with people using or smoking pot, I’m not a moralist either, but I don’t feel medical - or a marijuana dispensary should be on our strip. Because we do get a lot of visitors, we get a lot of folks from other places, and I think that one of the arguments to have something downtown was to have people come in and they’re getting educated. I just don’t feel it should be on our strip, any sort of dispensary period, and I don’t think it’s an inconvenience to be out on Airport Road or outside of the downtown core.”