Main Street pot goes to vote in Breckenridge
Breckenridge voters will decide the fate of retail marijuana on Main Street.
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting the council voted 5-1 to hold a Dec. 9 special election on the matter. Since it was a resolution and not an ordinance it only required one reading and vote by the council to go into effect.
The election is advisory in nature only, meaning it will still be up to council to ultimately decide the fate of retail marijuana shops on Main Street. After much discussion during a work session leading up the meeting, the council finally decided on what language to put on the ballot. It will read: “Should the Breckenridge Town Council enact a local ordinance that allows the retail sale of marijuana in the downtown area of Breckenridge, subject to restrictions, such as: no more than five retail marijuana stores can be operated within the downtown area; no retail marijuana store can be located on the ground floor of any structure; and no more than one retail marijuana store can be located within any block.”
“If the majority votes no, the council just leaves everything alone and BCC will have to be out of their Main Street location by Feb. 2, 2015,” said town attorney Tim Berry. “But if they vote yes, the council will still have to finalize the ordinance.”
Councilwoman Erin Gigliello cast the lone nay vote. Mayor Jon Warner was absent.
“I voted against the ballot initiative because I am concerned that a campaign further discussing this topic will continue to draw negative attention to our otherwise harmonious town,” she said after the meeting. “I am concerned with what our community wants, but this ballot question asks narrowly ‘yes’ or ‘no’ where there are several possibilities. I believe a comprehensive survey would have more effectively researched what actions would better our community. I am concerned that a ballot question such as this will continue to divide our town.”
Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence was torn, but ultimately decided to vote with the majority.
“I voted yes only because I felt like I had to,” Lawrence said. “There’s been so many personal attacks against me and people have threatened my job. I felt like I had to.”
The special election will be conducted through mail-in ballot. Ballots will be printed and mailed out to all registered voters in the town of Breckenridge 18 to 22 days prior to the special election date. Instructions will be on the ballot, and voters can either mail the completed ballots back or drop them off at the ballot box at town hall no later than 7 p.m. Dec. 9.
Currently there is only one retail marijuana shop operating downtown. Breckenridge Cannabis Club (BCC) has been in its current Main Street location for five years. If the majority of votes are opposed to the question, BCC will be forced to vacate the premises.
“It’s very sad that we might have to leave this location,” said Brian Rogers, BCC general manager. “We’ve been in this historic yellow building on Main Street for five years. Even though it is expensive and it’s not very conducive for retail since it’s on the second floor, it’s going to be hard from a sentimental standpoint if we have to leave. We also lose a lot from an advertising standpoint. We’ve spent half a decade advertising our location. If we have to leave that is all lost.”
Rogers is surprised at how much opposition there has been regarding marijuana on Main Street. The primary complaint has been that marijuana stores downtown will tarnish Breckenridge’s family-friendly brand, prompting tourists to go elsewhere. However, since Jan. 1, 2014, the day recreational marijuana became legal, the town and region has experienced some record-breaking numbers regarding lodging and local sales tax. In fact, sales tax is up 9 percent over last year, and the town is 10 percent ahead of the current budget in revenue.
“I’m surprised at how vocal the opposition has been,” Rogers said. “We were here on Main Street in 2012 when 69 percent of local voters approved recreational marijuana. I assumed then the voters know we were already here and nothing would change except that we might get a few more customers.”
However, what looked like the end of a long road to legalization was just the opening chapter in an ongoing saga.
It started late last year when the council at the time approved an ordinance forbidding any retail pot shops in the downtown overlay district.
After the April 2014 elections, the makeup of the council changed, and the issue was revisited in the early summer. A straw vote revealed a slim majority, 4-3, was in favor of allowing retail marijuana to operate downtown under certain restrictions. Initially, the council intended to handle the ordinance.
It later decided to put the issue up for vote in the November election. After the town attorney showed them what the ordinance would look like on the ballot, council members decided against it due to the complicated and convoluted legal language.
So once again they were going to hammer out the ordinance themselves. At the Aug. 26 meeting they began working on several of the restrictions to go with the ordinance. But in the two weeks since, the issue continued to heat up around town, culminating with an online petition started by a local business owner. In about a week it had more than 800 electronic signatures from locals, visitors and second-home owners who didn’t want marijuana on Main. A counter petition soon popped up. And on Tuesday, Sept. 9, the council announced its intention to send the issue back to the voters.
Since it’s too late to place a question on the November ballot, the council had to call for a special election, the earliest possible date being Dec. 9. According to state law, a special election can’t be held within 32 days of a general election or any sooner than 30 days after a resolution is passed.
“We’ve been talking about this issue since June,” Rogers said. “There was plenty of time to get this on the general election. I think the voters will vote in favor of us staying, but I think the turnout will be low and it will be very close, maybe 55 to 45 percent in favor, which will still leave the town divided.
“All the money being spent to hold the election and all the money that will be spent by those either opposed or in favor of the ballot question could have been better spent going to charity organizations like the Summit Foundation or elsewhere,” Rogers added. “It’s going to waste tens of thousands of community dollars.”
There are four more retail marijuana shops in Breckenridge, but all are clustered on Airport Road at the north end of town.
People can register to vote up to the date of the election as long as they can provide proof they’ve lived in Colorado for at least 21 days. You can register at the county courthouse in Breckenridge, the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Frisco or online. The last Breckenridge city council election, held on April 1, was also conducted by mail-in ballot. At that time there were 3,004 registered voters and the election roughly cost the town more than $6,000. Those costs come mainly from printing and mailing the ballots.
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