The Western Slope's largest city and a popular stop for travelers on I-70 and U.S. Route 50, Grand Junction has never allowed recreational marijuana sales and has banned medical dispensaries since 2010. But the Grand Junction City Council has discussed revisiting marijuana regulations since July of last year, according to the city's Community Development Department; in January, the council approved ballot questions proposing that the city roll back the marijuana business ban and implement an 8.25 percent special sales tax on regulated marijuana sales.
Although smaller communities nearby, such as Palisade and De Beque, have recreational dispensaries, Grand Junction would be a big domino to fall on Colorado's western border, where the majority of towns and counties still ban retail pot sales. That's a big "if," however, as 58 percent of Grand Junction voters rejected medical marijuana dispensaries during a local election in 2010, and nearly 52 percent voted against statewide recreational legalization in 2012. But city council members are betting that an estimated $2.9 million in tax revenue during the first fiscal year of sales will be enough to sway voters into re-evaluating the town's relationship with pot, and a recent poll backs that.
The ballot questions are short on details, leaving any potential future pot regulation to the council, but the city planning commission's current suggestions for a local marijuana industry would cap dispensaries at six locations, all of which would have to be at least 500 feet from schools. Cultivations, infused-product manufacturers and one marijuana testing facility would also be allowed within the city, with businesses able to apply for both medical and recreational licenses. No outdoor cultivations, delivery or hospitality businesses are currently allowed, according to senior city planner Lancer Gloss, but the official regulations wouldn't be finalized until after the election, if voters approve the ballot measures.
Gloss believes that dispensaries could open in Grand Junction as soon as January 2022 if voters give their approval, but during a March 3 meeting, Councilman Chuck McDaniel pointed out that the same election and term limits will bring new faces to the council, and any potential marijuana framework could very well change before next year.
"The timeline looks pretty aggressive, particularly at the front end, because we're going to have a different council in June," McDaniel told his colleagues.
There could also be a clash brewing over whether commercial marijuana growing operations should be allowed within Grand Junction, with Councilman Rick Taggert suggesting that other industrial businesses in town may not appreciate having a pot cultivation for a neighbor.
"I am totally against cultivation in this community. I respect the fact you have to put it in [the city plan], but I can't imagine what businesses are going to think that are running significant light manufacturing, or [other] manufacturing industries, with a field right next door of marijuana," Taggert said during the meeting. "I just don't think cultivation makes any sense in an urban area."
Mayor Duke Wortmann disagreed, suggesting that Grand Junction shouldn't leave tax dollars on the table and local businesses at the mercy of outside suppliers. "Stores, when they open up, are going to need product. So whether it's locally grown and taxed...[that] probably makes the most sense, because you have control over it, and you're not being held hostage by someone driving down I-70 to get it here," he said.
Voters in eight Colorado towns approved allowing retail marijuana sales in the November 2020 election, as municipalities look for more forms of revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already familiar with the federally legal hemp industry, Grand Junction could be coming around on marijuana, too, according to a February poll posted by the Grand Junction Sentinel showing that the majority of respondents support retail marijuana sales within the city.