Colorado, Washington city managers offer their experience of marijuana on Main
The fate of a business in downtown Breckenridge now rests in the hands of the voters, sort of.
Last week, Breckenridge Town Council put into motion a special election on the question of allowing retail marijuana stores in the Main Street or downtown overlay district. The election, which can be held no earlier than Dec. 9, is advisory only. That means rather than the majority vote becoming law, it merely provides guidance for the elected council of seven.
The owners of Breckenridge Cannabis Club, which has operated in its current location on Main Street for five years, has no problem with taking the issue to voters; it just doesn’t trust the low voter turnout usually associated with special elections.
“We’d rather see the election held during a general election when more people are in town, and the voter turnout is higher,” said BCC general manager Brian Rogers.
In Washington state, this wouldn’t be an issue. Washington’s Legislature detailed all the rules and regulations regarding placement and location of recreational marijuana. In Colorado, the state opted to give local government, counties and municipalities more autonomy in the decision-making process. Many towns and counties have opted not to allow recreational marijuana stores at all. And those that do get to decide, among other things, the placement of such stores.
“The state tells us all the rules we have to follow, such as they must be 1,000 feet from schools and parks,” said David Timmons, city manager in Port Townsend, Washington. “We don’t have much say locally where they can and can’t go.
“But I can tell you when adult entertainment came into Port Townsend, we put them downtown so everyone could see who was going into those establishments.”
Meanwhile, Fort Collins, like Breckenridge, has held multiple elections related to marijuana over the years. But none have ever applied to limiting said stores to certain areas of town.
“It’s been a lively topic here as well,” said Darin Atteberry, Fort Collins city manager. “There has been a lot of people who feel passionately about this on both sides of the issue.
“But we don’t limit locations to one area. We have one located on ground level on Mountain Avenue.”
Fort Collins is an archetypal Main Street city. Harper Goff, who grew up in Fort Collins, worked with Walt Disney to create Disneyland’s Main Street USA and modeled many Disneyland buildings on those of his hometown.
Boulder city manager Jane Brautigan said that city has used a model similar to what Breckenridge is considering regarding marijuana shops downtown.
“If they are located in our downtown or business district, they have to be on the second floor,” Brautigan said. “We have one on Pearl Street. It’s located on the second floor. It’s never caused any issues, and we hold a lot of family-friendly events in the Pearl Street Mall.”
However, Breckenridge’s economy, unlike those of the aforementioned towns, is centered solely on tourism. Some fear that tourism could be negatively affected if people suddenly decide Breckenridge is no longer a family-friendly town. But Breckenridge and the rest of Colorado’s high mountain towns have enjoyed record tourism numbers so far during the first year of legalized recreational marijuana.
“I’ve seen no negative impact in our community,” Brautigan said. “I think a lot of people in other parts of the country expect to see people smoking marijuana all over the place. But that hasn’t happened in Boulder. It’s still illegal to use in public. That hasn’t changed.”
In addition to BCC, several other Breckenridge marijuana businesses located on Airport Road are tuned in closely to what happens. If the council decides to change the existing ordinance and allow marijuana businesses to operate or continue operating in the Main Street district, they could have the option to relocate downtown. Under some of the proposed rules only existing shops could move there, at least in the first year.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” Brautigan added. “There are proven ordinances already in place all over Colorado.”
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