Vail citizens group begins study on retail marijuana
May 14, 2014
VAIL — Town officials here have taken a wait-and-see attitude toward the retail sale of recreational marijuana. A group of town residents has volunteered to help the town council decide how, or if, retail sales might be handled in the future.
The council faces a number of sometimes-conflicting messages from town residents, business owners and resort representatives. A 74 percent majority of town voters in 2012 approved Amendment 64, a change to the state constitution that legalized the recreational use of marijuana and established a framework to approve retail sales. That's in contrast to opinions ranging from mixed feelings to outright opposition to allowing sales in a "family friendly" resort.
Faced with those messages, the town council last year imposed a temporary moratorium on accepting applications for retail sales in town. While it's been extended a couple of times, the moratorium is set to expire July 31.
That gives the "retail marijuana working group" just a few weeks to study what the retail marijuana landscape looks like in the state in general, and in mountain resorts in particular.
A May 14 meeting got the group up to speed with a quick overview of the law, as well as presentations by a Breckenridge police officer and a representative from a state cannabis industry group.
Breckenridge voters actually decriminalized marijuana in 2009, and the town moved quickly to allow retail sales almost as soon as they were allowed, on Jan. 1 of this year. In contrast, Vail banned medical marijuana dispensaries shortly after the rise of those businesses in 2009.
Brady Allen of the Breckenridge Police Department told the group there have been relatively few problems there. Retailers distribute information about where people can and can't smoke, Allen said, which especially helps inform tourists. There have been reports of people lighting up in no-smoking hotel rooms and condos. But, Allen said, that's a violation of the state's no-smoking regulations. Those violations on private property are generally civil, not criminal matters, Allen said.
Responding to a question about the number of citations written for marijuana in Breckenridge, Allen said just 19 were written in 2013. Asked about tickets written for driving under the influence, Allen said everyone pulled over had also been drinking.
Breckenridge has imposed a stiff tax on retail sales, and Allen's position is funded by that tax. While he didn't say how much has been collected so far, he did say that January's tax collections paid for his benefits for 2014 — a number that's usually about one-third of a public employee's annual compensation.
If Vail's council decides to go ahead with regulating retail sales, expect those regulations to be stiff.
Meg Collins, the executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, said tough regulations are welcomed by alliance members, who see strict regulations, and strict compliance, as necessary steps to legitimacy.
Asked if the marijuana business is the most tightly regulated she's seen, Collins quickly said that she's also worked in the oil and gas industry. That's more strictly regulated, she said, but not by much.
Working group member Ted Steers is also a member of the Vail Local Licensing Authority, the town's liquor board. Steers said he'd learned a lot in just 90 minutes, but added there's much more to know.
Steers said beyond just learning about marijuana and the law, the working group also needs to consider the marketing effects of allowing retail marijuana sales in town. On the other hand, he said, the town has regulated where real estate offices can be located, and regulates open containers of liquor in the town's resort areas.
"If we can regulate those, we can regulate this," Steers said.
But that decision is still far from made.