Weeks after deciding to ban marijuana hospitality establishments in Trinidad, the town's city council has decided to revisit the decision.
A town of just over 8,000 people near the New Mexico border, Trinidad is home to around 25 marijuana dispensaries. Both dispensary owners and local officials don't hide the fact that the majority of customers frequenting those stores are from New Mexico and Texas, where recreational marijuana is still illegal, as well as nearby Colorado towns without pot shops.
Over the past few years, tax revenue from the dispensaries has infused new life into Trinidad, and it's definitely helped buoy the budget and provide financial relief for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Mayor Phil Rico and some Trinidad City Council members don't see a need for places where people can smoke the marijuana purchased in the town.
During a council study session in July, Rico revealed that he and several councilmembers had opted out of a new state law that allows local governments to permit marijuana consumption establishments. After receiving heat from other councilmembers and local marijuana proponents over the lack of public input and the fact that the decision was made during a work session and not a full council meeting, Rico and the council agreed to hold a public hearing and another vote on the matter.
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"I would really like, before we made any decision about this, [to hear] if individuals involved in marijuana in this city have an interest in exploring a marijuana hospitality establishment of any kind, and how they propose to do it. I think it's inappropriate of us to make a decision without hearing from them," councilwoman Erin Ogletree said during a virtual council meeting on August 10 that did not include public feedback.
Rico, who opposes marijuana hospitality establishments, said he didn't want the town to have a disproportionate number of businesses in town allowing social pot use, but added that he didn't want to decide who does and who doesn't receive a marijuana consumption license, either, pointing to the 25 pot shops that could be eligible if Trinidad were to allow dispensary tasting rooms under a hospitality ordinance.
"I think it opens up to having way too many, like the marijuana [stores] we have right now," he said. "I really don't see a huge benefit to the City of Trinidad. I really don't see it. ... It might generate a few bucks, but I really don't know if will generate that much."
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The state law permitting social marijuana hospitality businesses, passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2019, gives towns and counties the right to opt in and allow such businesses. Under the law, dispensaries can apply for tasting rooms similar to a brewery taproom, while restaurants, art galleries, yoga studios and other qualified businesses can also apply for social marijuana use licenses — as long as they don't have an active liquor license. Towns and counties have been slow to opt in since the new law took effect in January, but several towns — Glendale, Dillon and Denver, for example — are considering opening themselves up to the business.
Now Trinidad may join them.
"The pot shops got people off Interstate 25, brought them to downtown Trinidad, they see the beauty of the architecture down here, and they're able to experience what we have. The marijuana business has given us an opportunity to flourish," Councilwoman Karen Griego said during the August 10 meeting. "Not only with the taxes, but I see people coming to downtown Trinidad who would've never come here otherwise. If it's legal and [marijuana business owners] think they can do it, then we should give them a shot."
Rico ultimately agreed with the council that community feedback was warranted on the topic; the public hearing is set to take place Monday, August 24.