The southern Colorado town, less than fifteen miles from the New Mexico border, has used $100,000 in marijuana tax revenue from Trinidad's 25 dispensaries to provide utility stipends for residents, along with $300,000 for rent and utility relief for local businesses and $100,000 for extra funding split between the town's hospital and the Las Animas County Health Department to fight COVID-19.
Trinidad economic development coordinator Wally Wallace says that one-third of local marijuana tax revenue is set aside for a "rainy-day fund," which has been flush over the past several years. After COVID-19 spread across Colorado, Trinidad staffers feared that a drop in tax revenue during the first quarter of 2020 was inevitable — but Trinidad dispensaries broke a sales record during that period, putting $853,000 in tax revenue at the city's disposal right after statewide stay-at-home orders were implemented.
"We've been setting aside money for that rainy-day fund for a while, which has been fantastic. When COVID-19 came in, we were trying to figure out how to react and help our local businesses while the federal and state governments were still trying to do the same," Wallace says. "We understand this pandemic is still going on, and we still might see some drastic changes. People maybe were panic-buying early on, but that being said, we're still shocked about the lines outside of dispensaries right now."
Over 130 local businesses have received funding from the COVID-19 relief project, Wallace adds, while residents struggling to pay the bills can apply for a $250 stipend for water and electricity payments.
"We don't want people to think we're rolling in the dough and not struggling with this. A lot of this is unpredictable, and we don't know where it's going to land. But so far, the money we've held through marijuana tax revenue has shown it's not as bad as we had initially thought," Wallace says, though he admits that he and his colleagues aren't sure what 2020's second quarter will show.
Interim city manager Mike Valentine — who has worked in various roles for Trinidad over three decades — says that they won't know how much additional support marijuana taxes might continue to provide in 2020 until the end of June, when new sales figures come in. "With marijuana sales and everything else opening up, I think we're going to be all right. I say that with hope in my speech, though," he explains.
One of the early border towns to opt into commercial weed when the industry was legalized in Colorado in 2014, Trinidad has become a popular destination for marijuana shoppers from New Mexico, as well as Oklahoma, Texas and even Kansas, whose border is just two hours away. Both Wallace and Valentine don't hide the fact that a population of fewer than 9,000 people can't support 25 pot shops, and not all of the town was in favor of becoming a marijuana destination for shoppers driving from other states to Colorado.
But in Valentine's view, Trinidad doesn't have a long time to take advantage of marijuana tourism, so the town should make the most of it now. While New Mexico failed to legalize recreational marijuana earlier this year despite the governor's support, it's expected to revisit the issue. Oklahoma now has a burgeoning medical marijuana industry, and the Oklahoma legislature or a ballot initiative will likely bring recreational legalization to the forefront in that state next year.
"Oh, we definitely knew this" wouldn't last forever, Valentine says. "That's why we've been doing the rainy-day fund, to store that tax revenue away. But we're hoping that since we're established, and if marijuana is ever opened up for interstate commerce, we already have the outdoor grow facilities and a head start."