Turning a new leaf: Hayden council votes to allow recreational marijuana
HAYDEN — Five years after Colorado legalized a commercial cannabis market, the Hayden Town Council on Thursday passed an ordinance allowing the sale of the drug and creating an application process for people wanting to open cannabis shops within city limits.
The move comes as local resident Rodney McGowen pursues plans to start what would be the town’s first marijuana dispensary at a location near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
It reverses a 2013 ban on recreational marijuana sales and growing operations within the town. While some see it as a way to boost the local economy, others worry it will promote devious behavior and endanger people’s safety.
As town manager Mathew Mendisco made clear, this does not mean a dispensary will pop up on every street corner.
The ordinance creates strict limitations on where such shops can open, such as a 1,000-foot buffer zone around daycares, schools, parks, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, libraries and recreational facilities.
It also says that a dispensary must be within 150 feet of a “major transportation facility,” defined as a facility funded and regulated by the federal government.
“That basically limits Highway 40 and the airport where a facility like this could be located,” Mendisco said.
While the council voted unanimously at its last meeting to approve the first reading of the ordinance, members were more hesitant this time.
The vote passed 4-2, with council members Tammi Engle and Richard Hagins opposed.
Hagins was concerned the ordinance may encourage visitors flying into the area to buy marijuana as soon as they land, then drive intoxicated.
While Mendisco acknowledged that as a possibility, he said he does not believe the dispensary’s proximity to the airport would put people at any greater risk than, for instance, the town’s liquor store directly off U.S. Highway 40.
“I think that there are risks on the road every day from intoxicants of all varieties,” he said.
Mendisco has focused more on the potential that dispensaries could have on growing and diversifying Hayden’s economy. While officials have not yet conducted a financial projection of the tax revenue recreational marijuana could generate — there will be no excise tax on marijuana products, only the town’s 4% sales tax — he points to the success of other municipalities that allow dispensaries.
Steamboat Springs, for example, raked in almost $500,000 in tax revenue from marijuana sales at its three dispensaries in 2018, according to city records.
McGowen, who had voted against the public measure to legalize marijuana in the past, has warmed up to the economic potential of the marijuana industry, along with many Hayden residents. McGowen spurred the creation of the new Hayden ordinance in April, when he sent a letter to the town council in which he expressed an interest in purchasing a plot of land near the junction of Routt County roads 51 and 51A, just north of the airport.
He aims to build a dispensary there, with the hope of catching customer traffic from incoming visitors.
By the end of next week, McGowen plans to submit an application to the town to open the shop, at which point he will move forward with buying the land.
“We would like to get started with construction as soon as possible,” he said, though he was not sure when that could occur.
The ordinance does not take effect until Aug. 9, 15 days after its passage, and it may take additional time for city officials to review his application.
With hurdles still to cross, McGowen said he feels both excited and apprehensive about the potential of owning Hayden’s first dispensary.
“You just never know about new business,” he said. “I’m just hoping it will be successful.”
The inhabitants of 575 Yampa Ave. heard the expression “twice as nice” and decided to go a little further.