Snowmass Town Council inches forward with pot shops in village | AspenTimes.com

Snowmass Town Council inches forward with pot shops in village

Snowmass elected officials at a council meeting June 18 established that allowing pot shops in the village would generate revenue and not cost the town money.

At the direction of the council after its last marijuana-related meeting, in which Mayor Markey Butler questioned if sanctioning dispensaries could be more of a financial drain than gain, Snowmass town staff prepared financial estimates.

The purpose of the nearly two-hour discussion was for the council to review these figures and inch closer to reaching a consensus on marijuana, which is under a moratorium in Snowmass until Oct. 31.

To help project figures in Snowmass, town staff used marijuana sales across eight comparable Colorado jurisdictions (including Aspen). Because local sales tax rates vary, Snowmass looked at the amount of pot sales within each government rather than the total tax revenue, town spokesman Travis Elliot explained.

Last year, marijuana sales generated between $2.3 million and more than $368 million in municipalities throughout the state, according to a memorandum from Elliot to the council.

Among the eight jurisdictions — Durango, Telluride, Crested Butte, Gunnison, Carbondale, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge and Aspen — pot products comprised 1.6 percent to 3.5 percent of the total sales tax base in 2017. The city of Aspen, which last year racked in more than $11 million in marijuana sales, was on the low end of the total sales tax base at 1.6 percent.

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Using a more conservative estimate of 1 percent to 3 percent of the town's taxable sales, staff estimated that pot shops would sell between $1.9 million and $5.8 million in Snowmass Village, the memo states.

That translates to $97,483 to $292,450 in annual tax revenue, according to the town's report. If Snowmass implemented an additional 5 percent excise (or sales) tax on pot, which the council grappled with at the meeting, the tax-revenue projections would be higher.

Addressing another concern that arose at the council's most recent meeting about marijuana, the memo notes that of the eight municipalities, only the town of Breckenridge hired an additional police officer "to assist with the enforcement of marijuana regulations." The city of Gunnison uses its marijuana tax revenue to partially fund an additional officer.

The other jurisdictions reported that pot shops required "little to no extra work" for its existing police force.

The eight municipalities also said the work associated with licensing and inspecting dispensaries was minimal and absorbed by existing staff. Further, the Colorado Department of Revenue reimburses jurisdictions for the administrative costs of processing marijuana licenses, according to the memo.

Three people made public comments at the meeting June 18. Andrew Wickes, who manages the family-owned Sundance Liquor and Gifts, called the money lost to Aspen in lacking pot shops "a very real phenomenon."

"We're not just losing the tax sales on marijuana sales, that's also being lost on dinner and entertainment and so forth," he said.

Wickes said he does not believe that pot shops will change the fabric of the Snowmass community, and that "there is a vitality of services that can be accomplished through providing these services."

Snowmass resident Jay Shumaker offered a different tune and said the town's employee housing could become "pothead housing" if dispensaries operated in Snowmass.

"I think there's a connection to cheap housing and marijuana and the abuse of it," he said.

Mike Sura, who is on the town's marketing, group sales and special events advisory board but was not speaking on behalf of the group, reiterated his desire to see the Town Council make a decision and move on.

"I think this council has been kicking this can long enough. There are people on the council who don't want to make a decision," he said, adding shortly after, "Let's get on with it. I think it's a waste of time and money to have a referendum. I think this body needs to make a decision."

Individual sentiments among council members at the meeting varied little from recent discussions, with Bob Sirkus, Tom Goode and Bill Madsen generally more open to pot shops and Butler and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk conflicted or opposed.

Butler and Shenk proposed the question go to voters on a ballot in the November election, which the other three council members did not support.

Snowmass Village in 2012 voted 989-385 in favor of passing pot, according to results from Pitkin County.

In a 3-2 vote, the Snowmass council directed town staff to begin to develop the regulatory scheme for allowing dispensaries and wording for an excise tax. Butler and Shenk were the dissenting votes.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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