Council to Address Spree of Local Cannabis Laws and Regulations
A little more than five months ago, Cripple Creek citizens said “Absolutely, Yes,” to the idea of opening their community doors to retail marijuana, including recreational and medicinal shops, and possibly grow and manufacturing cannabis operations and even pot hospitality clubs.
By an overwhelming margin, voters approved a pro-marijuana ballot proposition, becoming the first town in Teller County to take this action, setting the stage for retail cannabis businesses to open in the Cripple Creek gaming community in the near future.
Now, following the issuing of a temporary time-out in the process, reality has set in for elected leaders who must get down to the nuts and bolts of unlocking the doors for future reefer businesses on a limited basis. In fact, the next month could go down as “Reefer Time in Cripple Creek,” with a clearer path getting finalized for the pre-license stage for future cannabis shops.
For months, the city has been actively exploring the rules and regulations used in a variety of Colorado communities that allow marijuana shops, including Alma, Breckenridge, Central City, Eagle, Idaho Springs, Manitou Springs, Nederland and Salida.
The clock is ticking for the city to finalize their rules and guidelines prior to the expiration of a city-imposed marijuana licensing moratorium, which ends around the time of Cripple Creek’s first council meeting in June. A recent workshop outlined one overwhelming conclusion: Legal marijuana licensing is a complex journey. As a result, it may take months for the first Cripple Creek cannabis retail shop to open for business, with no shortage of rules and a bombardment of questions.
But that said, city leaders are determined to abide by the wishes of their voters and to usher in the cannabis industry. “People voted for it,” said Councilman and former mayor Bruce Brown, at a recent workshop. “It’s not a dirty little secret. We have to do something.”
With all of the state rules and regulations, Brown and a few other leaders don’t see an overwhelming problem in handling these future marijuana shops. The recent workshop was attended by two officials from the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. They answered an array of questions from the council and staff members, mainly clarifying the roles of the local jurisdiction and state in regulating the marijuana industry.
At the same time, some leaders, such as Mayor Milford Ashworth, want to take a more cautionary approach. “We have to think about the future,” said the mayor. “We are looking to become more of a destination town.”
Rubber Hits the Mat In Marijuana Arena
Regardless of various opinions, the rubber has hit the mat as far as accepting the town’s pro-reefer reality and moving ahead.
This week, the city will take its first official step in treading across the cannabis fields of green, as the council on April 19 will grapple with the initial reading of its first official marijuana ordinance, dealing with the touchy subject of where future cannabis shops can be located.
“This is a starting point,” said Frank Salvato.
During their recent workshop, the elected leaders laid out the proposed zones for marijuana shops, which could be permitted in the main business district downtown, along with commercial sections, such as C-1 And C-2 areas. They won’t be permitted in any residential areas. Plus, all future marijuana businesses must be approved by a conditional use permit process.
That’s the easy part. The more restrictive focus is the space limitations imposed within these areas, including a proposed 1,000-foot ban from any school, and a 500-foot limit from a church, childhood facility or drug rehabilitation facility, and 250-feet from a park or public facility. In addition, pot businesses must be separated by a 500- foot minimum barrier.
This will seriously limit where pot shops can be located, with possibilities at the entrance to Cripple Creek and along Myers Avenue and in places outside the main strip on Teller One near the hardware store.
In addition, town leaders are proposing to limit licenses to retail recreational and medicinal marijuana stores. The actual pro-marijuana citizens’ initiative would have opened the door for a variety of additional types of uses, including even reefer hospitality clubs, an idea mulled in the past.
But city attorney Erin Smith doesn’t believe the town has to permit all of these uses. At the recent workshop, the council struggled somewhat with this issue with several leaders discussing cultivation and manufacturing uses as probable areas the city may want to explore in the future.
At least initially, the city is considering to just allow recreational and medicinal cannabis shops; and under a best case scenario, to have them combined under one roof.
One big concern voiced by elected leaders deals with enforcement, as the current police force is already struggling with officer shortages. “Right now, the police force is working 24/7,” said the mayor, at the recent workshop.
Police Chief Bud Bright, however, doesn’t believe the future arrival of a few marijuana shops will impact his agency that much, other than with their current problems with staffing. “We are a gambling town,” said Bright.
Salvato cautioned that the proposed marijuana zoning ordinance is a starting point, and can be amended.
No Shortage of Rules
The marijuana zoning ordinance is just round one in enacting future cannabis regulations in Cripple Creek. The town then has to finalize more specific rules of operation, along with setting fees and coming up with a selection process. The last part of the formula may become the trickiest part, as not many Colorado small communities that sport marijuana businesses have offered tangible rules pertaining to license selection.
Based on the preliminary interest, the demand for future shops in Cripple Creek could exceed availability, with the city approved pro-cannabis ballot issue only allowing two recreational and medical marijuana businesses. As a result, the city may have to come up with a lottery system, or a legal way to pick the winners and losers of the short availability of licenses, according to city officials.
Last week’s workshop raised more questions than answers, with concerns posed about signage, an advent of possible psychedelic mushroom businesses (as a result of the state vote in Nov. 2022), an increase in theft and hours of operation. Of all the cities Cripple Creek officials examined, Salvato and most officials appeared to favor the system set up by Alma the best. But city officials have expressed a desire to pick the best, workable highlights from similar-type communities in Colorado that currently permit retail weed.
The one big unknown is the amount of money Cripple Creek could receive from the marijuana industry, which is currently experiencing a big downturn from its earlier heyday when Colorado became one of the first states in the country to legalize recreational weed.
In fact, a report on Google no longer rates Denver as the top cannabis city in the United States. This distinction now belongs to Portland, Oregon.
Also, all bets are off regarding when the first marijuana shop could realistically open its doors in Cripple Creek, with opinions ranging from later this year to even getting pushed back into 2024.
At various council meetings, a few marijuana entrepreneurs have briefly outlined a variety of plans, but elected leaders couldn’t comment on these due to their current moratorium.
Although he didn’t want to speculate about the realistic timing of a future marijuana business, in the gaming community, the Cripple Creek city administrator is optimistic that the city can get their various marijuana laws in place prior to the moratorium expiration. He said that some of the forthcoming marijuana ordinances, at the attorney’s direction, can be handled on an emergency basis. Altogether, the city must approve about four different marijuana-related ordinances.