Snowmass Village is on its way to allowing retail sales of recreational and medical marijuana after elected officials directed staff on Monday night to start exploring a regulatory scheme for pot. The town council also wants to consider placing an excise tax on the November ballot, which could raise additional revenue from the sales.
It was a divided council that agreed to lay the groundwork for pot sales in a resort that has long marketed its family-friendly reputation. There has been a moratorium on marijuana sales in Snowmass since shortly after Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized the drug, in 2012.
Mayor Markey Butler, who has been consistent in her opposition to Snowmass Village pot shops, was joined by councilwoman Alyssa Shenk on the two no votes. Bob Sirkus, Bill Madsen and Tom Goode voted yes to take the first step toward lifting the local moratorium, which is in place through October 2018. However, an extension is likely to allow time for the town to put regulations in place.
Butler and Shenk were also in the minority with their support of asking voters to make the decision on whether pot sales should be allowed within town borders.
“If we feel we can move forward without taking this to the voters, we can save a lot of time and energy,” said Madsen. “It’s where this world is going.”
While Mayor Butler agreed that medical marijuana has practical applications with some of the hospice patients she sees as part of her day job, she said she remains concerned about how pot affects the adolescent and teen brain. Her colleague Goode countered that alcohol also has detrimental health effects.
‘Not pie in the sky’
Monday’s meeting included input from a marijuana shop owner, Renee Grossman, and attorney Lauren Maytin, whose experience practicing marijuana-related law predates Colorado’s legalization.
Grossman told elected officials that tourists typically spend an average of $100 during their initial pot shop visit and that these guests may visit another two or three times during their stay.
“This is not pie in the sky,” said Grossman, who owns the High Q dispensaries in Carbondale and Silt.
A frequent argument for allowing Snowmass dispensaries is the revenue seemingly lost to pot shops in Aspen. That in turn has led to further “leakage” of revenue by people who will then stay in Aspen after their purchase to shop, have dinner or party, according to proponents.
Snowmass’ town staff prepared a comparison of tax revenue generated in other Colorado resort towns where it is legal. Communities have an opt-out measure as per Amendment 64.
“In 2017, marijuana sales amounted to anywhere from $2.3 million to $368.8 million in individual Colorado municipalities,” according to a financial analysis of potential business in Snowmass Village provided by the assistant to the town manager Travis Elliott.
Pot sales in eight different municipalities were surveyed and comprised between 1.6 to 3.5 percent of each jurisdiction’s total sales tax base. Of the ski towns sampled, Steamboat Springs, with $12.2 million in marijuana sales, which is about 2 percent of the city’s $607 million total taxable sales, saw the most revenue from this source.
Aspen, with $11.3 million in marijuana product sales in 2017, derived 1.6 percent of its total sales tax base from the drug last year. The city of Durango, with $27.5 million in marijuana sales during 2017, derived 3.5 percent of its total taxable sales from pot.
Using a range that represents from 1-3 percent of all taxable sales, town staff estimated that between $1.9 million to $5.8 million in product could be sold in a year in Snowmass Village.
“With the current tax rates in place, staff estimates that marijuana sales would generate an additional $97,483 to $292,450 in annual tax revenue,” according to Elliott’s memo.
“With an additional 5 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, these figures would double,” he added.
Of the eight municipalities contacted, only Breckenridge hired an extra officer to enforce marijuana regulations. The city of Gunnison “uses marijuana tax revenues to support 42 percent of an additional officer,” according to the memo.
The Colorado Department of Revenue reimburses jurisdictions for the cost of processing marijuana licenses. Last year that amounted to about $3,000 for Telluride and approximately $10,000 for the city of Aspen, according to Elliott’s information.
Earlier this year, the Snowmass Village Marketing, Group Sales and Special Events Advisory Board recommended that council not oppose allowing retail and medical marijuana sales facilities as long as they are well-regulated and situated in “inconspicuous locations.”
Attorney Maytin shared her opinion that allowing dispensaries to operate in obvious locations is actually preferable to keeping them hidden.
“Hiding it can create potential problems,” Maytin said. “The more visible it is, the less corridors people have to congregate,” she said.
Elected officials weighed that feedback, plus responses from a town survey, as they debated the issue for the bulk of Monday’s meeting.
“My perspective is we have been presented with enough information, vis a vis the survey that was done, the marketing board opinion and Travis’ opinion. I think it’s time to make a decision,” said Sirkus, who has been consistent in his support for Snowmass sales.
Sirkus maintained, “I am in favor of doing the work to issue licenses for both recreational and medical (marijuana),” he said. “Council should suck it up and make a decision.”
Before the vote, however, local property owner Jay Schumacher suggested that upholding the ban could be used as a selling point to marijuana-averse tourists.
“An alternative study might suggest a branded campaign” that appealed to those who don’t favor the drug, Schumacher surmised.
However, the self-described father and grandfather appeared to lose the council’s ear after suggesting “a connection between cheap housing, marijuana and the abuse of it.”
“Add pot shops to employee housing and you’ve created a pothead mecca,” he said.