The Greening of Cripple Creek

Marijuana  Rules Finalized in Gaming Community

Rick Langenberg

The marijuana speed race has ended, with the city of Cripple Creek waving a victory flag.


Last week, Cripple Creek elected leaders beat the time clock against a pending moratorium deadline, and finalized their rules pertaining to the full-fledged regulating and establishment of fees and rules for the cannabis industry.


Unless any sudden surprises develop, the path is now open for marijuana business applicants to proceed through the detailed, complex and expensive process of doing reefer business in Cripple Creek.


Due to the extent of the rules, the city is not expecting to see much marijuana revenue this year.


Last November, Cripple Creek voters gave the strong go-ahead and agreed to open the doors for retail marijuana on a limited basis. By taking this action, Cripple Creek became the first community in Teller County to legalize retail marijuana.


Faced with a new industry with no real local guidelines, such as where shops could be located and who would receive the licenses, the city imposed a moratorium on cannabis applications, a process that was scheduled to end in early June.


In the last few months, city officials have spent considerable time figuring out how to make this process work, in a way that benefits the city, community and prospective marijuana entrepreneurs. City officials invested close to $25,000 in planning costs and studied the rules of a variety of towns of a similar size that sported legal weed.


At Wednesday’s meeting, the council finally crossed the finish line with little drama.


That’s because it did the bulk of the rules work at a meeting earlier this month and an earlier workshop.  Last week, it had to firm up some guidelines, and make small changes.


The main area of unfinished business dealt with a point-based system for evaluating potential applicants.


In essence, the city, in the marijuana arena, is placed somewhat in the position of picking winners and losers in the allotment of licenses.  The demands for licenses far exceeds the availability, according to city officials. As with the guidelines proposed by the city, Cripple Creek will only sport two cannabis retail shops, which will feature both recreational and medicinal marijuana.


The city devised a rather elaborate rating system, capped by 12 main criteria points, and even set the wheels in motion for a panel to  make recommendations.


Initially, a few council  members were a little nervous about the complexity of this system. But the idea passed with no objections at last week’s meeting.


The council mainly followed suit and endorsed the second reading of  several marijuana-based ordinances and resolutions.


These dealt with taxes and fees and zoning. The initial application fee is slated at $10,000, while an 18 percent tax is assessed on the sale of legal reefer.


Under their approved rules, pending marijuana businesses can be located in the business district and C-1 and C-2 zones, under a conditional use permit process. But stern barriers remain regarding the minimum space distances for future pot shops from parks, churches and schools.


The city council, at the request of city attorney Erin Smith, made some adjustments for these space requirements. These were based on comments the city received from business operators and residents.


For example, the city agreed to tighten the minimum distance areas in protecting the  Cripple Creek District Museum, but loosening up the space barriers from churches to 250 feet.  Concerns were raised about the museum’s goals of appealing to families and kids, and how they may view a marijuana dispensary next to one of the prime tourism hubs.


Also, the restrictions around the pocket park, next to city hall, have appeared to  be relaxed.


But unlike a previous detailed workshop, the council passed the marijuana regulations with virtually no debate.


As a result, the stage should open up for marijuana business to move forward.


At the outset of the industry, the city has opted not to open the door for potential marijuana manufacturing, grow and hospitality clubs. But that scenario could change if demand warrants these other marijuana uses.


In most ways, the new proposed rules are similar to what has been adopted in Alma, while employing some of the regulations used in Manitou Springs. City Administrator Frank Salvato has cited the goal of taking the best of the Colorado towns that sport legal marijuana. To date, he estimates that the city has received about six official inquiries from interested individuals or companies wanting to get involved in the city’s cannabis industry.