HomeNews Community taking wary approach after passage of Amendment 64
Community taking wary approach after passage of Amendment 64
Written by Mark Reaman
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Marijuana tourism? Maybe...
Not too many people in the valley seem to be freaking out over the decision of Colorado voters to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state. While Crested Butte Mountain Resort did get a concerned inquiry over the impact of the passage a day after the vote, the resort doesn’t expect the ski slopes to be overrun with pot-smoking skiers and boarders.
The new amendment specifically bans public use of the drug. But it does allow those people 21 years old or older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana legally. Adults could grow up to six plants in their homes. There has been some speculation that the new situation could encourage a “marijuana tourism” boom. The theory goes that people would flock to Colorado because they could legally smoke dope between ski runs or go to an après ski smokers lounge. While that could eventually happen, few see an Amsterdam-on-the-slopes popping up anytime soon. In 2009, Breckenridge decriminalized marijuana and according to an article in Mother Jones magazine, the mayor of Breck says there has been no noticeable impact on the town’s tourism industry. But David Niccum, general manager of the Acme medical marijuana dispensary in Crested Butte, feels some people will look at Colorado more favorably for a vacation. “If someone in Florida is looking to take a vacation in either Vermont or Colorado and they smoke marijuana, this amendment could influence their decision to come here,” he said. “I think some people will definitely choose Colorado for a vacation because marijuana is legal.” CBMR public relations and communications manager Erica Reiter says people shouldn’t expect to see advertisements for Colorado ski resorts sporting a marijuana leaf any time soon. “Chatting with the folks from Colorado Ski Country USA, they don’t feel there will be any big changes,” she said. “It’s still not legal to smoke marijuana in public. Our resort and the other resorts in the state are still appealing to all skiers and that includes a lot of families. Our goal is to provide a quality and safe ski experience whether someone smokes pot or not. There are still so many unknowns with this new situation—we are all waiting to see how it unfolds. We want people to choose a place for a good ski vacation based on the skiing.” The amendment that was passed doesn’t spell out the details of how the commercial marijuana industry will be regulated. It leaves that up to the state Department of Revenue, which would oversee the “specialty shops” selling marijuana. The first of those shops is expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014. Under Amendment 64, marijuana would be taxed and regulated sort of like alcohol and tobacco.
Local law in wait-and-see mode Enforcing marijuana laws has rarely been the top priority of area law enforcement agencies. But it is something they can’t ignore when it becomes obvious. This new state situation puts a spotlight back on marijuana regulation for local police officers. Gunnison County Sheriff Rick Besecker, like his municipal counterparts in law enforcement, is taking a wait-and-see attitude. There are several outstanding questions about how the federal government will react to the amendment and how the state situation will play out. “At this point I opt to hold my professional opinion close to my vest until there is a concrete proposal on how the law will be written,” Besecker said. Crested Butte Chief Marshal Tom Martin agrees. “We are in a holding pattern,” he said. “We are waiting to see how it plays out and what is involved down the line. “Having said that, I am concerned with the message it sends to teens and pre-teens about the risks and consequences involved with using the drug at that age,” Martin continued. “Pot has never been a major issue for us here in Crested Butte. We know it is readily available. There are active marijuana dispensaries operating in town. But I am opposed to young people smoking marijuana. Studies show a very negative impact on the developing brains of teenagers if they smoke marijuana.” Martin said he is considering reviving the educational component the marshal’s department used to have with the Crested Butte Community School. Martin ran a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program for middle schoolers in the 1990s and early 2000s. He said he plans to relook at similar programs and possibly start up a program in the schools next spring. “Amendment 64 put the issue back on the front burner,” Martin said. “The perception of it being legal just sends a bad message in my opinion. I want to make sure the young kids in the community have both sides of the story and realize the facts of how marijuana can impact their developing brains.” The Mt. Crested Butte police department doesn’t anticipate big changes with how their officers deal with marijuana use. “We have discussed the impacts of Amendment 64 and how it will impact our community,” Sergeant Nate Stepanek wrote in response to a News inquiry. “The conclusion we have come to is that it will not have much of an impact. It is still illegal to use/consume publicly (like at a concert at CBMR) which we have always and will continue to enforce. The fact is that the current penalties for marijuana use or possession are not that stringent and our officers have always been allowed to use their discretion when charging someone who is in violation. “An example of this would be a medical call,” Stepanek continued. “Many times I have been in a residences on a medical emergency and not charged the person/patient for the bag of weed sitting on the coffee table. So again, there likely won’t be much of an impact to local law enforcement as to how we enforce the possession or use of marijuana.” Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal and it would remain illegal to sell or give marijuana to anyone under 21 years old.
What will the local governments do? Local governments must establish their own regulations by October 1, 2013. Local governments may ban marijuana businesses, but need a vote of the people to do so. As for what to do a week after passage of the amendment, the local politicians are looking at all options. At the county level, the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Hap Channell, feels things still need to shake out but he personally has concerns similar to those of Chief Martin. “First, it is waaay early to opine on how the county will react to the passage of Amendment 64. Just as with the approval of medical cannabis a few years ago, it will take time to sort through the details and to get direction from the state legislature during the upcoming 2013 session,” Channell said in an email response to the News. “As far as my personal reaction is concerned, I’m not surprised by the approval. It’s clear that the public is more and more believing that this particular drug should be controlled in the same way we ‘control’ alcohol. As a member of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition however, I’m concerned about the affects of cannabis on young brain development and on the potential of more broad acceptance and use among our young folks, similar to alcohol. In my opinion, a significant percentage of taxes generated must go into public education, and I don’t think that has happened where alcohol is concerned.” Mt. Crested Butte Mayor William Buck is looking over the situation from a macro and micro level. “It is interesting and a good thing that states are leading the way on this issue,” Buck said. “It looks like the federal government will probably go along with this process as other states sign on to legalization of marijuana. As for municipalities, there are varying concerns as to the administrative process going forward that we will have to take into account that will impact future decisions.” The town of Crested Butte has permitted three medical marijuana dispensaries and it would be a big surprise if the town came out against recreational marijuana shops after passage of Amendment 64. Mayor Aaron Huckstep said the council will put the issue on an upcoming Town Council agenda but he is surprised by some of the ramifications that are starting to result from the move. “I wasn’t surprised by the passage, although I’ve been a little surprised by the impacts, especially the reaction from Latin American countries asking exactly what this does to the entire ‘drug war’ effort in their countries,” he said. “Crested Butte’s Town Council will likely discuss Amendment 64, and our town’s reaction, at a regular session in December. There are a number of similarities between Amendment 64 and the legalization of medicinal marijuana dispensaries. “Although it is not a perfect analogy with the dispensaries, our town watched the actions of other communities in Colorado very closely,” Huckstep continued. “Once other communities had adopted regulations for the dispensaries, we reviewed those regulations, then used those regulations as a starting point for our own. continued on next page There is a lot of speculation that Colorado’s decision will end up in a court fight due to the conflict between state law and federal law. If that happens, the whole process will likely slow down. We will certainly be keeping an eye on the situation as it evolves.”
Dispensary shifts David Niccum of the Acme dispensary also has an eye on the future. “Right now nothing has changed,” he said. “But if everything is accepted at the state and federal level, there will be big changes. We are already looking to rent more space to expand our grow operation. We are looking at bringing in more products because I think more people will be coming to Colorado as a result of this and thus more people will be coming through our doors.” Under the amendment, current medical marijuana dispensaries cannot hold permits for both a medical marijuana outlet and a recreational marijuana specialty store. Recreational marijuana would be legal for those 21 years old and older, while medical marijuana can be distributed to those 18 years old and above with a doctor’s prescription. But current permitted dispensaries could shift their business to the recreational side. “We aren’t sure what we will do in the long run,” said Niccum. “It will depend on the final law. But we are definitely building a new business plan. We are just waiting to see what happens—but we’ll be ready when something is finalized.” Niccum said one thing he is particularly happy about with this vote is that the “medical marijuana industry” will be treated more like a legitimate business. “For the moment, I want to make it clear to everyone that you still have to have a medical marijuana card to come into the business,” he said. “Things may be changing but they haven’t changed yet.” Overall for Colorado, the state could increase tax revenues by an estimated $50 million a year. The amendment stipulates that the first $40 million a year generated by the tax will go to a state fund for the construction of public schools.