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Golden City Council Sniffing Around Recreational Weed Sales

Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine is currently Golden's only medical marijuana dispensary.EXPAND
Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine is currently Golden's only medical marijuana dispensary.
Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine
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Golden City Council is sniffing around the possibility of allowing recreational marijuana stores in the town of 21,000.

City staffers have been studying the potential impacts of retail marijuana sales since December, as first reported by the Golden Transcript, and some councilmembers expect the issue to be raised officially in the next couple of months. Although not a lock, the possibility of recreational dispensaries coming to Golden is far stronger than it was seven years ago, when the first retail stores opened in Colorado.

Before a municipality in Colorado can allow recreational marijuana businesses, however, the local government must first approve them. Despite over 61 percent of Golden voters approving Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana, in November 2012, Golden City Council instituted a moratorium on all recreational marijuana businesses in 2014, the same year that the adult-use industry went online in Colorado. That moratorium has stayed in place ever since, with Golden's single medical dispensary grandfathered in.

That lone soldier would like to enter the adult-use market, too, even if that means allowing more players on the field. Ashley Close bought Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine in 2018, hoping she could eventually convert the medical dispensary to dual use and sell to recreational customers, as well. Over two years later, though, Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine remains Golden's only dispensary, still confined to medical sales.

"It's not a dying business, but it's falling down," Close says of medical marijuana. "Whether it's a grow or [manufacturing facility], a lot of these folks who started up medical are giving up their medical licenses. A lot of companies have now dropped them, because recreational is a larger market."

According to Close, even as the only store in town, selling exclusively to medical marijuana patients isn't a sustainable business. While she would like to continue serving MMJ patients, she thinks that allowing adult-use customers, too, would help keep her store alive despite any future competition.

"In 2012, the City of Golden didn't want [recreational marijuana sales] because of all the theories of negative impacts on the city," Close says. "The residents here definitely consume cannabis, so I wanted to see if the city council would be interested in revisiting it."

With several new faces on council since 2012 and more Denver suburbs opting into retail marijuana in 2020, including nearby Lakewood and Littleton, councilmember Jim Dale thinks Golden should join the party.

"Marijuana is legal. It's been sold in sister cities and other places in Jefferson County. Our citizens are buying it there, so they might as well be buying it here, and we get the sales tax from the sales," Dale says. "But I'm only one of seven on the council."

Dale would need three more councilmembers to join him in supporting recreational marijuana sales before retail becomes a done deal, and there are still a few more steps the city would need to take before council takes a vote: After the city's report is finished, there will likely be a subcommittee hearing, which would have to approve the issue for a study session before any full council vote.

Councilmembers Rob Reed and Paul Hasemen have both indicated that they're at least open to opting in, while J.J. Trout, Casey Brown and Mayor Laura Weinberg either declined to discuss their position or didn't respond to requests for comment. Councilor Bill Fisher wouldn't say whether he's leaning either way, but did note that he's concerned about safeguards for children, and wants an involved community-engagement process.

"Whatever the proposal looks like, I hope it would engage and have a lot of resident community and leadership," Fisher says, adding that having the city explore retail marijuana sales is "not about [voting] yes or no, but more about trying to understand the way we think about the benefits and risks."

And even if Golden City Council eventually approves recreational sales, members must deal with some sticky questions first, including the number of stores that would be allowed. Dale says he thinks councilmembers would be more amenable to going slow, and allowing only the lone medical marijuana dispensary in town to operate as a recreational pot shop. Reed is more optimistic about allowing additional stores, but agrees that it would be a "small number," with that decision likely being driven by proximity to schools, parks and other popular community areas, including downtown Golden.

"I tend to lean in favor of allowing limited recreational sales in our municipality if we can find the right spot, which is always an issue in a small town like ours," Reed says. "We need to do a little cost-benefit analysis. If we're going to allow multiple licenses for marijuana, are we going to spend more in resources like policing, licensing and all of that stuff than we get in marijuana revenue?"

However, the most serious issue involved in any decision to allow recreational marijuana sales could be taxation. If the council begins permitting recreational sales, any special sales tax — a norm for municipalities with retail marijuana — would first have to be approved by Golden voters under the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Otherwise, if recreational dispensaries opened today in Golden, the only local sales tax they'd be subject to is a 3 percent standard sales tax; by comparison, Denver currently imposes an extra 5.5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales.

Reed thinks that if council approves allowing retail pot before residents consider a marijuana sales tax, that proposal would be voted down — a possibility that could push some councilmembers into waiting until that's settled.

"If we allow a license without addressing the tax rate, I don't think we get a tax passed to increase on cannabis sales," Reed says. "I think there's a better chance citizens would approve of that before."

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