RED CLIFF — Right now, the legal sale of marijuana is a “what if?” proposition in Red Cliff. A group of town residents wants to change that question to a statement — “no way.”
Colorado voters last year passed Amendment 64, which legalized personal possession and consumption of marijuana by people 21 and older. The amendment passed by a large margin in Eagle County, and by an overwhelming 111-38 vote in Red Cliff.
Diana Cisneros, the town’s postmaster and a lifelong resident, voted for Amendment 64. “I’m not against pot,” she said.
But Amendment 64 also approved establishing retail shops that would be taxed. That has Cisneros and other town residents worried.
The Colorado Legislature, county and town governments have spent time this year establishing the legal framework for those sales, and there are several ballot questions this fall asking voters to approve both state and local taxes on the production and retail sale of marijuana.
Red Cliff’s town council earlier this year approved regulations for retail operations, and is asking voters this fall for a 5 percent tax on pot sales above the town’s existing sales tax.
Heather Stoltz wants everyone in town to vote for the tax, thinking it might make retail pot more expensive in Red Cliff than it might be at retail shops on the valley floor, thus discouraging entrepreneurs from coming to town.
But Stoltz, Cisneros and other residents don’t want to see retail shops in town.
“Our town is finally on an upswing,” Cisneros said. We’re having families with kids moving in — I can’t see (retail shops) in a neighborhood.”
Part of the problem is that Red Cliff doesn’t have a “commercial” district in its zoning code. This means anyone wanting to open any kind of marijuana business, from sales to growing, would have to buy or rent at least one home in town to open a store.
Stoltz, Cisneros and others are now circulating a petition that might force a special election to ban marijuana businesses in town. Opponents and the town’s attorney are now crafting specific language for that petition. But town mayor Scott Burgess said pot opponents’ fears may be overblown.
Burgess said he and other council members would welcome any sales tax-producing business to town, including a marijuana shop. There are only three businesses in town now that generate any sales taxes, which is a big factor in Red Cliff having the highest property tax rates of any town in the county.
“But we’d welcome a coffee shop, too,” Burgess said.
Burgess said he and other council members are aware of the challenges that would face anyone trying to bring a marijuana-related business to town. Drafting new regulations was a response to both the requirements of the law and the vote for Amendment 64 this past fall. In Red Cliff, more people voted to legalize pot than voted to re-elect Jared Polis, the town’s congressional representative.
‘Special Use’ Review
Burgess said while the council drafted regulations for pot shops, the board also included ways to make it hard to bring a retail operation to town.
The town’s regulations would require any potential operator to go through a “special use” review for approval. That’s a “pretty subjective” process, Burgess said. That would allow council members wide latitude to determine if a marijuana business would fit in with neighboring property uses.
Bob Rainek owns several homes and a couple of building lots in Red Cliff. He and his wife spend big parts of their summers in town, and Rainek said he hopes to retire to Red Cliff in the next couple of years. He believes that any potential problems with retail marijuana in Red Cliff would be more severe simply because the place is so small.
“My preference would be to see it in Vail or Beaver Creek,” Rainek said. Those places are big enough to dilute any unforeseen impacts, he said.
Marijuana opponents are likely to meet Red Cliff’s legal requirements to force a special election, Burgess said. But the town’s code seems to allow quite a bit of time to hold those elections. That means a marijuana-shop ban could end up on the town’s municipal election ballot in April of next year.
For now, though, Burgess hopes voters pay more attention this fall to a proposal to raise the town’s property tax rates to make up for revenue lost during the county’s past two property-valuation cycles.
“If we don’t get that, we’ll have to turn off streetlights,” he said.