Editorial: Craig’s new marijuana ordinance is a glimmer of green hope
For years after the passage of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2012, Craig and Moffat County would have nothing of it.
The Board of County Commissioners issued a ban on recreational shops and commercial cultivation in February 2013, just a few months after voters across the state made marijuana legal to grow, possess, and consume in small amounts.
The Committee to Grow Craig soon sprang up, as did other community members, business owners and residents, whose work pushed through several petition initiatives to change the ban.
By July 2014, commissioners reconsidered the ban and voted 2-1 (Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe voted no) to put the question on the ballot for that November.
That failed, too.
While Moffat County and Craig have refused to ride the tidal wave of money brought by legalization of marijuana, many small Colorado communities outside Craig have reaped the rewards. The nearby town of Dinosaur stands to make millions in sales taxes from the sale of marijuana — money they’ve put right into their coffers for a revamped community building, a cleanup of the town, and a true bolstering of their budget for whatever may come.
A recent grand jury investigation into the Dinosaur Town Council yielded no charges as the small community continues to cash in on pot. The town of Hayden recently approved recreational marijuana and are building a multi-million high school. Folks won’t even be off their planes 30 minutes before they hit the pot shops in Steamboat Springs this winter.
Meanwhile, Craig and Moffat County can’t keep their libraries and a world-class museum open due to dwindling finances from an energy sector that isn’t paying the bills like it used to. Coal is still king in Craig, but its influence is waning on the world stage.
Craig’s recent municipal election offers us some hope in this area with the recent election of Paul James and others to Craig City Council whose work on a new marijuana ordinance is promising. This new ordinance, for the first time, offers Craig residents a real shot at truly helping to diversify the economy away from coal in order to soften the economic blows to come from coal’s inevitable decline.
Councilman Chris Nichols deserves much of the credit for the new law, which would cap sales and excise taxes each at 10% in order to stay competitive with nearby Routt County and to allow future councils the flexibility to change the taxes.
They could be zero, depending on the council. Nichols and others on council have historically opposed cannabis in Craig, and still do. But they also believe in representing their constituents, many of whom are tired of watching as other Colorado communities prosper while Craig is left behind. These councilors, despite their deeply held beliefs toward marijuana, are nonetheless doing what constituents in Craig want. They are making the hard decisions Craig needs to make if we are to survive.
But there are a few areas of the ordinance in need of changing. First and foremost, council should consider removing the limit on the number of licenses allowed for marijuana-related businesses. Currently, council has the number of licenses allowed for each type of marijuana related business — retail sales, warehousing, testing, etc — to just three licenses per type of business. This flies in the face of free market capitalism. It limits the number of new small businesses that could spring up, provide jobs, and replace Craig’s fleeting tax base brought by the decline of coal.
Councilors should also consider writing their new marijuana ordinance in a way that incentivizes locals to start their own marijuana businesses in Craig so profits stay in our community. This can be done by heavily discounting or waiving application fees, inspection fees, maybe even some taxes for business owners whose homes are homesteaded in Moffat County. Council should also consider spurning growth by waiving fees or taxes on Craig’s small marijuana operators who don’t make much money during the first few years of business. As long as the city doesn’t limit the number of licenses allowed, there should be no shortage of savvy businesspeople in Craig ready to take on any business challenge. And there should be no shortage of tax dollars for amenities like a recreation center with a pool inside, maybe even a publicly-owned former coal-fired power plant that’s been retooled into natural gas-fired power plant.
Marijuana will not be the one thing that saves Craig’s economy when coal is pushed out. But it will help lessen the blows to come. Moffat County’s commissioners should pay close attention to these next few months and get ready for their own marijuana ordinance that will help re-fund the library and museum.