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Colorado's Mountain Resorts Gear Up For Recreational Marijuana

Doug Anderson
Flickr - Creative Commons

Colorado ski towns are preparing for more than just snow this winter. The first recreational marijuana stores will open in the state in January. While a few communities across Colorado are banning retail stores altogether, others are taking different approaches to the sale of recreational marijuana.

Last November, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 by a healthy margin. In resort towns such as Telluride, nearly 80 percent of voters said yes to legalization.

“Telluride is a pretty young community,” said mayor Stu Fraser. “The demographics changed recently. We went from an average age of 30 to 34.”

Telluride is known for its numerous mountain festivals and laid back vibe.

When it comes to recreational marijuana, Fraser says Telluride is going farther than most. Plans are already in the works for three retail stores in the main business district. Telluride will allow grow operations and there’s nothing preventing a shop from eventually opening up right on Main Street.

“We’re not trying to create a tourism flow into the community to build our sales tax revenue off of recreational marijuana,” said Fraser. “That’s not the goal here at all. What we attempt to do is make it right for the folks that live here. Then that ends up really making it right for the people who visit here.”

Other mountain towns including Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs are also allowing retail stores, but there are other restrictions. Most have ordinances banning stores in certain parts of town and won’t allow for grow operations.

It’s an altogether different story in Vail, which has a moratorium on retail marijuana stores. The town has also banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The issue that I’ve heard over and over again, is just people questioning bringing their families to an area or resort where marijuana is easily available,” said Andy Daly, the mayor of Vail.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Daniel Schwartz, a server at the Red Lion Restaurant and Bar near the base of Vail mountain, says the town wouldn't benefit from recreational stores.

Daly says he hasn’t made up his mind on whether to support retail stores. Voters in the town back it, but at least one resident - Daniel Schwartz - is skeptical.

“This town is driven on a high class cliental that come out here with their families for a family vacation, and the family experience,” said Schwartz, a server at the Red Lion bar and restaurant near the base of Vail mountain.

He supported the amendment but doesn’t think Vail needs recreational pot.

“And I don’t think they’re going to be using recreational marijuana in the first place,” Schwartz continued. “I think we’ll get the occasional spring breakers that are looking for it, and we get them now.”

Access hasn’t been an issue, according to Vail town council member Margaret Rogers.

“People are going to be able to buy it somewhere,” Rogers said.

She does think Vail would benefit though from marijuana stores.

Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR
Vail town council member Margaret Rogers, supports recreational pot shops in Vail.

“We might as well generate the tax revenue for it in the town of Vail, rather than have people go to Breckenridge or someplace that’s going to allow it,” said Rogers.

Since tourism is one of the state’s biggest industries – to the tune of $17 billion last year – officials plan to collect data on whether marijuana impacts people’s travel decisions.

But the state won’t promote marijuana as a reason to come to Colorado.

“Marijuana is a personal decision it’s not something that my office is going to market to,” said Colorado Tourism Director Al White. “We’re going to market to all of the scenic beauty, glorious vistas, and recreational opportunities.”

And just because it’s legal, it doesn’t mean it can be smoked in public. Amendment 64 bans that and ski areas will not allow smoking on the slopes.

Vail city council member Margaret Rogers says marijuana is already so pervasive, she doesn’t think the amendment will change much. She says the resorts will be driven by the same thing they always are.

“If we have snow people will come,” said Rogers. "If we don’t have snow, they’ll go someplace where there is snow. So I don’t know that marijuana use, regulation or legality will make any difference with that.”

In the meantime, Colorado voters will decide in November on an increased sales and excise taxes to pay for enforcement.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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