Editorial: Craig’s marijuana ordinance should incentivize small businesses, not big ones | CraigDailyPress.com

Editorial: Craig’s marijuana ordinance should incentivize small businesses, not big ones

Craig Press Staff
Craig City Manager Peter Brixius shows councilors how setback distances for marijuana business near homes, schools, and parks will be different in certain zoning districts.
Clay Thorp/Staff

For 10 years, Shaun Hadley of the Craig Apothecary weathered the state and local politics of medicinal marijuana — medicating those in need and getting at least a small piece of Colorado’s billion-dollar marijuana industry.

But that decade wasn’t easy for Hadley and the apothecary. Hadley lost a home in Craig to foreclosure. He fought for recreational legalization of marijuana in Craig long before those words had ever been strung together in a sentence. There are councilors still on Craig City Council who slapped a moratorium on marijuana businesses of any kind in response to Hadley’s opening the apothecary — a bad move for the long-term economic future of this community and a slap in the face to a new and exciting industry that should be a booming in Craig and Moffat County by now.

But through it all, Hadley kept the Craig Apothecary’s doors open.

And now there’s a new council tired of watching small, isolated communities in Colorado prosper from pot while Craig can’t seem to keep tenants in its prime commercial business spaces. Councilors opened commercial business zones to marijuana business and added a moderate sales tax cap of 4% if voters allow recreational sales of marijuana in Craig. That 4% is less than half what some Colorado cities have reaped from tourists and visitors on recreational sales, but all those extra tax dollars in Craig will be given directly to the Museum of Northwest Colorado and the Craig library for five years.

Former Apothecary employee-turned Craig Councilman Paul James has been advising council on the best ways create a business-friendly atmosphere for marijuana operators who might come to Craig if voters approve a ballot question this November.

But in an attempt to remove seemingly any and all regulations on Craig’s budding marijuana industry other than those imposed by the state, James and others on council are leaving Craig’s small marijuana business operators high and dry against the state’s hungry pot behemoths.

Small businesses are the backbone of this great nation. When big box retail stores came to Craig, many of our small mom and pop shops disappeared. That’s already starting to happen with the entrance of a major marijuana company in one of Craig’s prime commercial buildings near downtown. If Craig City Council doesn’t add some protections for small businesses like Shaun Hadley’s, there won’t be any Davids operating alongside Goliaths.

Some Colorado cities offer at least one way to incentivize lots of smaller operations as opposed to a handful of bigger, corporate conglomerates.

First, Craig City Council could require a certain percentage of marijuana products sold in Craig be locally-sourced. This would incentivize prospective local farmers and agriculturists in Craig to learn something new and provide other area small businesses with products of all sorts — not just recreational flower for tourists to smoke, but tonics, salves, tinctures, clothing, lubricating oils, and so much more.

If we allow Craig’s marijuana businesses to buy their product from anyone anywhere in the state, we can expect to have fewer local small businesses capable of providing goods and services that will soften the blow on our area’s shrinking, energy-heavy tax base.

Second, Craig City Council could consider waiving or discounting fees and local taxes for small marijuana businesses headquartered inside Craig’s city limits — especially those with taxable incomes close to the federal poverty level. This change would almost certainly help small marijuana startups in their first few years become successful brick and mortar businesses and would hopefully create some consistency for commercial property owners in the area whose tenants don’t seem to stay very long.

Third, Craig City Council should change their marijuana ordinance’s enforcement language to allow for a three-strike rule over a two-year period. As it currently stands, any single identification infraction whereby a marijuana dispensary sells to an underage person as part of a law enforcement sting operation or just a misreading of someone’s identification, could quickly end in a revocation by council of that dispensary’s license to sell marijuana. A three-strike rule over a two-year period would still allow council to revoke a marijuana dispensary’s license — protecting our kids from the dangers of marijuana and our burgeoning marijuana industry from the dangers of an overzealous future city council.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, council should put its marijuana ordinance online in an easily-accessible place on the city’s website. Such a posting might include language that translates the legal jargon, the legal speak of the city’s new ordinance.

Posting and translating the ordinance in a way folks can understand will go a long way toward building consensus among Craig residents at future public hearings and voting booths — an important act of transparency that will hopefully ensure the ordinance’s passage this November.