After sitting out for the first seven years of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, Buena Vista is close to issuing the town's first recreational dispensary licenses.
As a handful of mountain towns cashed in on tourists once retail pot sales began in 2014, Buena Vista only allowed one medical dispensary to operate, with local laws restricting sales to registered medical marijuana patients only. However, Buena Vista voters approved recreational dispensaries during the November election, allowing up to two retail pot shops to open in town.
Ascend Cannabis, the town's lone medical dispensary, plans to incorporate recreational sales and modify the store, according to owner Scott Embree, who is "not sure of a time frame" regarding the conversion, but says he is looking forward to serving medical patients and recreational customers going forward.
Ascend's premises modification has been approved by local and state regulators, according to Embree, giving the operation a head start toward becoming the town's first recreational dispensary. There were twenty applicants to become Buena Vista's second recreational marijuana store, according to Town Administrator Phillip Puckett, with the winner selected via random lottery during a public town board meeting May 11.
Voters approved a 5 percent sales tax on retail marijuana sales, which will go into the town's general fund. The money will be used to finance a number of projects and initiatives like recreational facilities, law enforcement, local infrastructure, affordable housing and emergency services, Puckett says.
"The revenues will help the town keep up with increasing costs for both operating and capital needs," he explains. "With two retail stores up and operating, the town estimates $250,000 in annual revenue from the base sales tax rate plus the 5 percent special sales tax [for marijuana]."
Although Buena Vista's population is less than 3,000, the small town in Chaffee County is a popular tourism destination for hikers, campers and rafters. Per Buena Vista's local ordinance, the town may impose its own packaging requirements and require every retail sales transaction to include a flier listing marijuana consumption laws, just in case eager Texans or Nebraskans need a reminder that they can't legally light up in public.
Buena Vista is among eight Colorado towns implementing recreational marijuana sales in 2021, including Littleton, Lakewood, Broomfield and Fort Lupton, among others.
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