Effort to bring cannabis lounges to Breckenridge will go to citizen petition
It could be left to voters whether the town of Breckenridge will permit cannabis lounges.
The Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday suggested medical marijuana attorney Jeff Gard circulate a petition to see if a “citizens-initiated ordinance” can gain enough signatures to put the legalization of so-called “marijuana hospitality businesses” on the ballot in Breckenridge.
On behalf of his client, Breckenridge Organic Therapy, Gard asked council members whether they would be interested in executing an ordinance to change the law in lieu of petitioning residents.
“This is a can of worms for the council if we put this on the ballot ourselves,” Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula said. “… You have the right to go to the electors and get a 650-name petition, and let the voters in town decide. That’s 15% of the electorate.”
Town attorney Tim Berry said he’d work with Gard to create a petition that, if supported and approved by voters, the town could ultimately enforce.
The council’s decision came after a thorough, spirited discussion about the reality of marijuana consumption in Breckenridge. Topics debated included the prevalence of public consumption on main streets, neighborhood and impaired driving safety, and regulation comparisons between the cannabis and alcohol industries.
In September, the town of Dillon approved, despite some public pushback, cannabis lounges via a council ordinance after a 5-2 vote, making Dillon one of a few municipalities in the state to OK some form of marijuana hospitality business. Dillon’s decision came thanks to a 2019 state law that allows the sale and consumption of marijuana at licensed establishments only after local municipalities opt in.
On Tuesday, Gard said he’s heard “a lot of problems” of visitors coming into town, buying cannabis and then smoking it on Main Street and in lodging properties “mainly because there’s no place other than that to go.” Gard compared Breckenridge with Las Vegas and Denver in terms of a pervasive odor of marijuana when walking in popular public areas.
If visitors to town had a place to go, Gard said that problem would be remedied. He said Breckenridge Organic Therapy is not asking for “a big party palace on Main Street,” but a more remote location adjacent to the dispensary on Airport Road where people could enjoy “smoking hospitality rooms,” and marijuana odor wouldn’t be detected from the outside.
Town Manager Rick Holman said he believed Gard was “painting a picture of a problem in Breckenridge that doesn’t exist” with regard to open public consumption and marijuana odor on Breckenridge Main Street.
“I bet in a number of years, we’ve had a handful of tickets been written and very few summons written for public consumption,” Holman said. “They are finding places to consume that are not creating problems in our community.”
If a citizen-initiated ordinance passes, Berry said it’s his understanding that council still could amend the ordinance voters approved.
Town council members Jeff Bergeron and Erin Gigliello expressed concerns about impaired driving and asked about tests for cannabis users and state laws on how much marijuana someone can legally consume before driving. Gard said the legal limit is 5 nanograms per 100 milliliters of blood, which he claimed would take “a substantial amount of cannabis consumption.” He acknowledged the debate persists about whether it is safe to consume any amount of marijuana and get behind the wheel, though he said “the same debate surrounds alcohol.”
Gard said ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft make consumption lounges more safe. But council member Dick Carleton noted that Breckenridge doesn’t have reliable ride-sharing services and recommended the dispensary incorporate a shuttle service, like fellow Airport Road businesses Broken Compass Brewing and Breckenridge Distillery provide.
Gard said he believes cannabis businesses should be able to offer “the equivalent of tasting rooms,” again pointing to regulation inconsistencies between the alcohol and marijuana industries.
Council member Kelly Owens worried families in the Airport Road neighborhood would be negatively affected by a cannabis lounge. Gigliello also expressed her concern for nearby residents related to the potential for more car accidents.
“Truth be told, I don’t want to see a lot more bars down Airport Road for the same reason,” Gigliello said.
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