Colorado municipalities choose their own medical marijuana destinies |

Colorado municipalities choose their own medical marijuana destinies

Jack Weinstein

— Want a feel for the varied response to Colorado's booming medical marijuana industry? Just take a survey of how some Colorado mountain towns have reacted.

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Here in Northwest Colorado, the city of Steamboat Springs allowed three medical marijuana centers to operate after creating an ordinance to regulate them. Two dozen miles west, the town of Hayden approved an ordinance prohibiting them.

In South Routt County, Oak Creek's Town Board passed a request for a medical marijuana center on to its planning commission, which allowed the business. Farther south, the town of Yampa surveyed its residents to figure out whether it should allow more marijuana centers after its first and only one closed.

Emotions ran high in Yampa last month when the Yampa Town Board convened to get community input on the subject.

Supporters cited the ability of medical marijuana centers to generate tax revenue for the town, while opponents pointed to the possibility of increased crime and the town's lack of law enforcement. Opponents also said anyone with a medical marijuana card could travel to Oak Creek, where the center Mary's operates.

The discussion was similar during Hayden Town Council meetings in May, July and August. More than 30 residents showed up at a May meeting in which the Town Council was asked to consider a request to amend Hayden's land-use code to allow medical marijuana centers. Some of those in attendance said marijuana cardholders could travel to Steamboat, just as other residents have to travel to Steamboat or Craig to pick up their prescriptions.

Ultimately, Hayden's Town Council did not allow medical marijuana businesses.

It wasn't a matter of whether they would generate sales-tax revenue and operate under the radar, as Steamboat officials said the city's centers have. Hayden residents and officials didn't seem interested from the beginning.

"It's been very adamant from the town; they don't want any type of (centers), cultivation, none of it," Hayden Mayor Lorraine Johnson said after the council voted unanimously Aug. 19 to prohibit the businesses.

A similar dichotomy exists between Breckenridge and Vail, two resort communities fewer than 40 miles apart.

Breckenridge has six medical marijuana centers. Vail has none after the town banned the businesses with a council resolution.

Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said Vail's opposition was never a referendum on the efficacy of medical marijuana. Rather, he said the discussion was about whether the businesses would compromise the image of a family-friendly community that focuses on healthy lifestyles and participatory sports the town had worked so hard to create.

Cleveland said the council decided that Vail, a town of 80 percent second-home owners, didn't need medical marijuana businesses.

"I think we made the right decision," he said. "When I see ads in the paper advertising a free joint on your birthday, that just convinces me even more that wasn't the image we wanted to project."

Image also was a part of the discussion in Breckenridge, but it didn't derail allowing medical marijuana businesses in town.

Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said he voted for Amend­ment 20 in 2000. He also said the Breckenridge Town Council approached medical marijuana centers favorably but cautiously. Before allowing the businesses to operate, the Town Council imposed a 90-day moratorium to draft rules.

At the same time, a citizens group led by a local attorney crafted a ballot initiative to legalize possession of as much as one ounce for adults 21 and older. The ballot initiative passed in November 2009 with 71 percent of residents supporting it.

Warner said Breckenridge has received positive and negative feedback. But he doesn't think medical marijuana has changed the town.

"I don't think we are becoming this marijuana-centered community." Warner said. "I don't think we're changing in a huge way. I don't think the community has changed. I think we're evolving."

A similar evolution could be coming to Steamboat.

Steamboat City Council Presi­dent Cari Hermacinski said after more than a year of medical marijuana centers operating here, she's heard nothing but positive comments. New state legislation is requiring the city to amend its medical marijuana ordinance, and the revision could result in the city allowing more than three centers, she said.

What you missed

Part 1 It took nine years for Colorado's medical marijuana industry to take off after Amendment 20. Some worry it's now out of control.

Part 2 Medical marijuana has become the basis for lucrative businesses, and entrepreneurs are not the only ones who could cash in.

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