Council wants economic study of marijuana shops | AspenTimes.com

Council wants economic study of marijuana shops

Dry and trimmed cannabis buds, stored in a glass jars.

In the latest development of the Snowmass Town Council's five-year-long look at marijuana, a few elected officials questioned if the town could lose money in giving pot shops the green light.

"It could cost us more" than the revenue generated by a marijuana sales tax, Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler said at a work session May 14.

Should the town OK dispensaries in Snowmass, with a cap on one or two, the mayor asked if it would need to hire another police or law enforcement officer.

"With licensing and inspection, there probably will be another position, whether it's a police officer, … it probably would be wise for us to do that," Town Manager Clint Kinney said.

Butler said she needs numbers — specifically, estimates as to how much sales tax revenue pot shops would produce in Snowmass — before knowing which direction to take next.

"The reason why everyone is driving this is because of the revenue coming in. There's not been anyone that's said, 'We just need it because we need to have (a pot shop) here,'" Butler said. "Every argument that has come out of our mouths at this table, and from people in the community, was, 'You guys are giving up a lot of revenue.' Well, what is that revenue?"

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The notion of an additional $80,000 of annual sales tax revenue for Snowmass Village floated around at the work session, but town spokesman Travis Elliot, who introduced the figure, called it a "wild guess" with a number of assumptions.

Elliot said after the work session that he applied the percentage of average revenue generated from other municipalities (with legalized pot) as a proportion of their total sales tax to Snowmass' total sales tax volume. In 2016, Snowmass' general fund sales tax garnered $5.1 million.

Per the direction of the council, town staff vowed to crunch numbers and return to the next marijuana-related meeting, scheduled for "as soon as possible," with a more in-depth economic analysis.

With concerns of pot shops damaging the resort's wholesome image, the council recently solicited the town marketing, group sales and special events advisory board to provide its input on the issue.

The purpose of the May 14 work session was for the council to review the recommendation from the marketing board, which passed the following resolution April 19 in a 5 to 1 vote:

"The board recommends that (Snowmass Town) Council continue to carefully evaluate the input from the community and further recommends that the council not oppose allowing retail and medical facilities as long as they are well-regulated and in inconspicuous locations."

Aspen Skiing Co. chief marketing officer and tourism board member Christian Knapp was the dissenting vote.

The majority opinion among those present at the marketing board meeting is that a few pot shops, positioned in discrete locations with little advertising, would not harm Snowmass' reputation as a family-friendly destination.

Timberline Condominium general manager and board member Mary Harris said at the meeting, "I think the town is losing a lot of revenue" by sending people to Aspen to buy marijuana.

Tourism board member Mike Sura questioned why the council is still "kicking this can down the road."

Contrary to the view of the mayor — who at the May 14 work session said, "I think we've got to let some things shake out before we scramble on this issue" — Town Councilman Bill Madsen offered a similar tune to Sura's.

"A lot of people from our survey are saying, 'This should be kind of a moot point,'" Madsen said.

According to the results of the town's marijuana questionnaire, to which 584 people responded, 55 percent of full-time Snowmass residents feel that marijuana establishments should be allowed, while 71 percent of part-time residents believe they should be prohibited. The town conducted the survey Dec. 21 to Jan. 21.

Upon speaking with lodge owners about the issue of revenue loss, Madsen also said, "those are real dollars" that Snowmass is losing to Aspen.

Madsen said he doesn't think the issue of marijuana is "that big of a deal, honestly."

Sura at the tourism board meeting also argued that taking the question to voters in the November election — one of the council's options as it contemplates what to do next — is a waste of time and money.

Unless council decides to altogether veto pot shops, the town will need to again extend its moratorium, which is in effect until Oct. 31. Snowmass Village first implemented its moratorium on medical and recreational marijuana establishments in September 2013, after Colorado voters approved recreational pot sales in November 2012. The council voted in February 2017 to extend that moratorium.

Butler at one point during the work session said that she would not support a ballot question and suggested extending the moratorium again.

If the town puts the question on the ballot, it would need to extend the moratorium because it will expire prior to the November election. The deadline to submit the ballot language is Sept. 7, according to Elliot.

If the council decides to allow one or two pot shops in Snowmass, town staff still recommends extending the moratorium in an effort to give the municipality enough time to produce the necessary "regulatory scheme."

erobbie@aspentimes.com