Cannabis Lighter Zig Zags Jar

A nugget of pot procured from a local establishment is pictured along with the necessary implements to roll a joint. Elected officials in Snowmass Village continue to discuss whether marijuana dispensaries have a place within the town borders.

Snowmass Village would consider a 5-percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales if the municipality decides to allow dispensaries within the town, elected officials determined Monday evening.

Adding an additional tax — which Aspen does not assess in the six dispensaries that are currently operating — is one of the variables that town staff will consider as they continue to gather information for council members contemplating allowing the businesses in the family-friendly resort. A moratorium on dispensaries in Snowmass Village is in place through October.

During this week’s work session, council specified what information it wants for an economic analysis, which would include the cost of developing a framework for licensing and inspection. Tax collections from Aspen and other ski towns like Crested Butte, Telluride and Breckenridge that permit dispensaries could provide baseline data.

“What is the bottom line? What is it going to bring into our town?” Mayor Markey Butler asked. “Every argument that has come out of our mouths at this table and people in the community is, ‘You guys are giving up a lot of revenue.’ Well, what is that revenue?”

A very rough estimate of tax revenue based on city of Aspen collections would be about $80,000 annually, according to Travis Elliott, assistant to the town manager. As he moves toward more concrete numbers, Elliott will use two theoretical shops in the village as one metric for how much could be earned.

Through March 2018 in Aspen, retail marijuana sales totaled $4.04 million, and liquor sales were $3.11 million, according to city of Aspen finance department information. The data indicate a 10-percent, year-over-year rise in marijuana sales and a 2-percent increase in liquor sales.

Aspen charges a sales tax but no excise tax on pot, according to Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s director of community relations.

Among council members, Butler has been consistent in her lack of enthusiasm for dispensaries in the town. Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk also expressed reservations this week about such businesses, based in part on feedback from some parents, she said.

Shenk asked whether Snowmass landlords would even allow the usage. Related Cos., which currently owns the Snowmass Mall and once owned the Snowmass Center, does not allow dispensaries. However, the mall is under contract for sale to a local ownership group, and the center for the past two years has been controlled by Eastwood Snowmass, which has a redevelopment application before the town.

Councilman Bill Madsen was among those present Monday to voice support for dispensaries: “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal honestly,” he said. Mayor Butler quickly replied, “I know you don’t, but I do.”

Madsen and colleague Tom Goode pointed out that the majority of Colorado voters approved the legalization of retail marijuana through Amendment 64, which passed overwhelmingly in both Aspen and Pitkin County in 2012. Sales tax leakage — not only because of pot but also sojourns to restaurants or shopping in Aspen — has been seen, they said.

“There is leakage. Whether the number is $300,000 in Aspen and we can get a third of that here, those are real dollars,” Madsen said.

While Town Attorney John Dresser agreed that legalization was approved statewide and with local voters, he noted that “The question was not, ‘Do we want dispensaries in Snowmass Village?’”

Survey says

The two council members’ reticence came despite the Snowmass Village marketing board’s 5-1 vote on April 19 to not oppose dispensaries if they are well regulated and located in inconspicuous spots. That decision was a reversal of the marketing board’s prior stance, Dresser pointed out.

Results from a recent town survey indicate that the opposition to dispensaries in Snowmass Village breaks down by age — younger adults favor it more than elders —  and whether one is a full-time or part-time resident.

When broken out by resident type, 71 percent of part-time residents answered “no” to the question, “Should marijuana licenses of any type be legalized in Snowmass Village?” A total of 169 part-timers replied.

However, 55 percent of year-round Snowmass Village residents answered yes. There were 301 full-time respondents.

Among Roaring Fork Valley residents the number was even higher, with 70 percent saying yes to pot shops. Thirty-seven people replied who were in this category.

Visitors were equally divided on the issue, at 50 percent for each, though only six people checked the non-resident visitor box.

Town Manager Clint Kinney said if the council decides to put the issue to voters in November, it must approve ballot language by July 9. If the measure were to pass, the earliest a pot shop could open in Snowmass Village would be January 2020, according to Elliott. He said that it could take much of 2019 to develop regulatory language.

If Snowmass Village decides against placing the question on the ballot this year, it would have to wait until 2020 because of the excise tax consideration, which would fall within the TABOR Amendment restrictions on revenue collection.

madski@aspendailynews.com

Follow Madeleine on Twitter, @Madski99