JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Over bluegrass weekend in June, the Telluride Bud Co. turned away 364 people wanting to sample recreational marijuana.
On Telluride Blues and Brews Festival weekend in September, the medical marijuana dispensary had to disabuse 292 potential customers.
The pot seekers were under the mistaken impression that sales of recreational marijuana were already legal under Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Adam Raleigh, owner of Telluride Bud Co., believes his business will expand two to three times on the earliest date for legal sales of nonmedical marijuana, New Year’s Day 2014.
“I do believe the tourism is going to be there, 100 percent,” Raleigh said.
The typical out-of-state tourist tells him, “I heard you guys passed a marijuana law. I haven’t done it since high school, college. I would just like to try it out again. It’s been 20, 30 years.”
During ski season, Raleigh heard tourists say things like, “Guess what, honey? Next year, we’re definitely coming back to Telluride. We were planning on skiing in Utah. I think we’re coming back to Colorado.”
Telluride and San Miguel County are outliers, among a dozen or so cities and counties in Colorado to begin taking applications for business licenses as early as Tuesday, allowing budding entrepreneurs to begin selling recreational pot on Jan. 1.
The other city and county governments are Denver, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Edgewater (on Tuesday), Frisco, Glendale, Larimer County, Nederland, Northglenn, Summit County, Pueblo County, Ridgway and Steamboat Springs, according to a list compiled by Sensible Colorado, a group that advocates for marijuana to be regulated the same as alcohol.
Rachel Allen, staff attorney for the Colorado Municipal League, estimated there were another dozen or so cities that are still finalizing ordinances to allow for retail marijuana establishments.
Closer to Durango, the town of Silverton anticipates taking business licenses for recreational marijuana soon after the New Year, said Brian Carlson, the town administrator.
Silverton at the moment does not have a medical marijuana dispensary, but it does have a medical marijuana grow site with a license for making marijuana-infused products, though production has been temporarily halted to allow for modifications to its site, Carlson said.
Local marijuana advocates are fuming that Durango and La Plata County are missing out “on the biggest capitalist opportunity in the history of capitalism!” lamented “Rasta Stevie” Smith.
Smith has taken to quoting Jamaican singer Bob Marley: “In the abundance of water, only the fool is thirsty.”
Medical marijuana is already big business in Durango, said Smith, who formerly managed a local dispensary.
Last year, Durango’s nine medical marijuana dispensaries had sales of about $5 million, based on the city receiving $149,000 in taxes from its 3 percent sales tax.
The approach of Durango and La Plata County is not to ban recreational pot, a local option exercised by many towns such as Bayfield and Ignacio, but to put moratoriums in place. Durango’s expires July 1, 2014, and La Plata County’s expires Jan. 1, 2015.
Because it takes about three months to go through the license application process, a recreational pot business might not open its doors in Durango until the autumn of 2014 or in the county until spring 2015, Smith said.
It’s conceivable that marijuana-seekers will be going up the winding mountain road to Silverton for their fix.
Because Amendment 64 passed by more than 60 percent in Durango and La Plata County, Smith argues that local leaders are not being responsive to the voters.
Raleigh, owner of the medical marijuana dispensary in Telluride, said the attitude was that “San Miguel County voted 79.4 percent in favor (of Amendment 64), there’s no reason to stop it from happening, the people spoke.”
“Listen, we’ve had medical marijuana in this town for over three years. We’ve had no problem integrating them into our culture,” Raleigh said. “We’ve had no crime increase, no major problems.”
In Durango and La Plata, elected officials have emphasized that the moratoriums are intended to give staff members adequate time to draft appropriate legislation and for the public hearing process for adopting ordinances.
The moratoriums could end sooner depending how fast the process is completed, officials have said.
Because of local controversies, such as businesses objecting to a medical marijuana dispensary locating in the heart of the tourist area of Main Avenue or in their same commercial or office building, Durango officials are also considering legislation to address local concerns, like the proper location for marijuana businesses.
Smith said Durango is stuck in the past.
“As creatures of habit, our local officials are treating marijuana as a problem more serious than alcohol. They’re legislating it more strictly than alcohol has ever been legislated,” he said.
He said the fears are unfounded.
“Are people coming to Durango and saying ‘This is a mad pot town?’” he said. In a podcast, Smith questioned whether tourists are really saying, “I don’t want to bring my Texas Baptist money here.”
Smith said recreational marijuana businesses will be responsible and tasteful. “We don’t want pot leaves on Main Street. We don’t want pot businesses with neon lights,” he said.
Raleigh believes Telluride might have a competitive advantage over other Colorado cities.
“We might have more of an uptick because people want the freedom of cannabis,” he said.