EAGLE COUNTY — Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess is frank — the town needs virtually any revenue source it can find. That’s why town officials would welcome a retail marijuana shop. Beyond that, town officials are asking voters to approve a new sales tax on any retail pot sold in town.
That move makes Red Cliff stand out among local towns. Of the six incorporated towns in the county, four — Gypsum, Avon, Vail and Minturn — have either put moratoriums on retail marijuana sales or banned them outright. Eagle, the only town with an operating medical marijuana dispensary — the result of a decisive win in a special election that kept the dispensary open — is expected to apply most of its medical marijuana rules to retail shops. Eagle County is also applying most of its medical marijuana regulations to retail operations.
Eagle is also pondering how to tax marijuana, either through a straightforward sales tax, a set “transaction fee” similar to the town’s lodging tax or an operating fee levied on the establishment. Eagle officials could decide as early as this week whether to take a tax proposal to voters.
That decision has been made in Red Cliff. Burgess said the town council has already decided how shops will be licensed — through the state, with approval from the town. The question now is whether or not sales from a shop would be taxed another 5 percent over and above the town’s current sales tax rate of 7.4 percent.
Catering to vacationers
With some tourists already asking where to buy weed legally, Burgess said he anticipates a shop in Red Cliff would cater to people coming to vacation in Vail or Beaver Creek. And if a shop opens, it would be the only one in a town in the upper valley, although the current medical dispensaries in the county — all in Edwards and Eagle-Vail — may open retail operations, too.
Retail marijuana stores were approved by state voters last year when they passed Amendment 64, which legalized the possession, use and retail sale of small amounts of pot. The amendment set up the framework for state and local governments to license, and regulate sales to anyone 21 or older. Local governments were also given the option of banning retail marijuana operations.
Some Eagle County towns Banning retail sales
Minturn and Vail have “temporary” bans on retail sales. Gypsum banned medical dispensaries early on, and town officials have taken the same approach to retail stores.
Minturn Town Council member Earle Bidez said he’d like to wait until after a town council election in the spring of 2014 to revisit the issue.
In addition to its ban on sales, Vail also prohibits the public use of marijuana, and it would be something of a surprise if the town ever approves retail shops there.
Avon officials are expected this week to pass a “temporary” moratorium on retail shops that would last until September of next year. Mayor Rich Carroll said the town will almost certainly act before that temporary ban expires, to either allow or ban retail shops. The town has already banned medical marijuana dispensaries, and Carroll said his preference would be a similar ban on retail operations, which is why he cast the sole dissenting vote on the temporary ban earlier this month.
Opportunity for Red Cliff
That’s why Burgess sees an opportunity for Red Cliff.
“We don’t have much potential for growth,” he said. “With all these towns banning (retail sales), there might be an opportunity.”
Burgess said he’s talked to the mayor of Nederland, a small mountain town west of Boulder, who made clear that his town envisions becoming an Amsterdam in the Rockies.
Burgess isn’t thinking that big, but believes a retail marijuana store could bring more tourists to town. That, in turn, could create other business opportunities — a coffee shop in town would be nice, he said.
“I would imagine someone will come knocking,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and firstname.lastname@example.org.