The Picking of Winners and Losers in Cripple Creek’s Marijuana Showdown

License Submittal of Reefer Licenses to Kick Off in Early July

Rick Langenberg


After a six-month moratorium and final agreement on the rules and fees for the forthcoming local cannabis industry, Cripple Creek’s long-awaited marijuana gamble is about ready to begin.


But officials are still unsure how much money retail weed will generate for the gaming community.


In fact, the overall future impacts associated with marijuana retail activity in Cripple Creek has stirred more questions than answers. This issue has featured a bombardment of expert opinions, but few tangible facts or examples, since Cripple Creek has become the first town in Teller County to open its doors to legal cannabis.


With a decline in the industry’s reported profitability, some wonder whether legal pot will go bust in Cripple Creek or if it will become a way to attract a younger demographic and add to the town’s entertainment flavor; or on the other side of the coin, add to the district’s drug-related woes.

And with all the details involved, most experts are putting their wagers on no cannabis stores opening their doors until late 2023 or even early  2024.


The next year, though, could become the planning turf for two allotted marijuana shops, which will be permitted to sell both medical and recreational pot to anyone over 21 years of age.

In fact, the stage is now set for the city to start accepting applications, which will be graded by a score of city officials.


This week, City Administrator Frank Salvato is scheduled to officially announce the opening date   for the submittal of marijuana license applications. According to the city administrator, this time period will extend from July 3 to July 24. Details will be unveiled at this week’s regular city council meeting.


Altogether, the city has received about eight inquiries from interested cannabis entrepreneurs who may want to start retail cannabis shops in Cripple Creek.  The choices are quite limited for  future marijuana business operators, as town leaders have slammed the brakes on pot hospitality clubs, manufacturing and grow cannabis outfits.


Instead, the city has limited their future marijuana push to two operators that would offer both medicinal and recreational cannabis for adults over the age of 21. Similar to the system used in Manitou Springs, duel applications are required, so the city doesn’t end up with a spree of marijuana-related storefronts.


After the licenses are submitted, a committee, representing a variety of city officials and department heads, will grade the pros and cons of each of the applicants. The grading system was approved by the council, as part of a hefty lineup of new marijuana rules and guidelines.

The council will approve a single finalist.  Two other top picks will be named, and have to go through a lottery system to choose the runner-up spot.


The marijuana winners still must get their plans approved by the city council through a conditional use permit process.


The main criteria the council will use hinges on the applicant’s marijuana-related business experience, and their previous track record; the merits of their business plan; financial backing and commitment; local ties between the company owners/operators and the city; just to name a few.


Demand exceeds Availability

The grading system was set up due to one definite marijuana reality in Cripple Creek: Demand for marijuana licenses exceeds available allotment.


Cripple Creek voters last November gave the okay for the town to open its doors to the sale of retail marijuana on a limited basis. Voters were a little less certain on taxes associated with legal reefer.


This was one of the key issues taken up by the city council in recent months.


In fact, a future pot operator faces some significant fees and taxes, with an application cost set at $10,000 and the sale of retail pot hitting the 18 percent level.


But city officials have indicated they could change these fees at a later date. For the outset, they want to make sure the costs of  monitoring the new industry are covered.


Already, the city has probably invested well more than $20,000 into pre-planning expenses in studying the marijuana licensing situation. The city studied a number of cities of a similar size that permitted retail marijuana shops.


Probably the biggest comparisons were drawn from  the town of Alma in Park County, along with  Manitou Springs.  According to Salvato, Cripple Creek tried to pick the best of what other similar-sized towns did in regulating retail marijuana.


The city council then approved pages of rules and new zoning guidelines.  Where future reefer shops are located is probably the biggest area of contention. Pot shops will be permitted in the business and C-1 and C-2 zones, but strict buffer requirements were put in place. These have set minimum distances for reefer shops to be located from parks, churches, schools and museums.

As a result of these guidelines, it is quite possible that the town won’t see an actual reefer store in operation until next year.


How this industry will fare in Cripple Creek is still an open-ended question, with a variety of opinions.  The industry has been on a downward spiral.


But at the same time, legal reefer shops in smaller, tourist towns, have done better. And the decision by Colorado Springs voters to deny recreational marijuana shops could improve Cripple Creek’s prospects.


In the Pikes Peak region, Manitou Springs is the only town that permits retail pot on a limited basis. Palmer Lake is another town in the area that recently approved legal marijuana.