2 Towns Explain What Happened When Pot Became Legal Within Their Borders

Matt Orr Curator:

When legalizing pot was up for a vote in Colorado, some people feared Colorado's future would look something like a joint with arms and legs destroying the city (sorta like Godzilla) and creating havoc forever more. Others were a little more, well, chill if you catch my drift. Today anyone over the age of 21 can go to Colorado and smoke weed for recreational use, and these two cities explain what it's been like.

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Our county, we've got the main population bases of Gunnison, and then we have Crested Butte. And Crested Butte is host to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, so it's got the ski industry very much within its culture.

There's a pretty bit dichotomy between Gunnison and Crested Butte. Gunnison is historically an agricultural community, traditional, blue-collar, permanent, community. Crested Butte is definitely a resort-driven community. There's still a segment of our community, for sure, who is from the very kind of old-school train of thought. And it's OK to have liquor stores, and it's OK to have liquor in your house. Marijuana is a different story, you know. Marijuana is bad.

I think Crested Butted is a little more open to being on either the leading edge or the bleeding edge, where you're going to experience some mistakes. We embrace people's ability to live the life that they want to lead. From Gunnison's perspective, I think what they've really done is taken a "wait and see" approach. There are certainly advantages to that.

Medical marijuana became legal in the state back in 2000. Amendment 64 comes along and, of course, legalizes the recreational use of marijuana. Town of Crested Butte again said, "Yep," and the city of Gunnison basically said, "Well, we've already asked our voters about medical marijuana, so we don't really feel the need to ask our voters about recreational marijuana." That was a few years ago. We had a couple of gentlemen in our community approached our city council saying, "Maybe it's time to reconsider."

My name is Todd Houle. I own Pizan's Pizzeria in Gunnison, Colorado.

I'm Jason Roland. I work over at the car dealership. Our business together is under the umbrella Green Day Wellness, depending on what the city lets us do.

We have a plan to kind of just put everything under one roof: manufacturing, labeling, your disposal, have a place you could walk through from, you know, seed to package, as you walk and out going "Oh, okay, that's how you make a cookie. That's how you make, you know, infused oil. That's how they're making hash." Everybody stands to make a lot of money, you bet. There's so many tourists flocking here to buy pot.

January, February, there was a line outside the door every single place.

No one's running out of product any more.

Nope, nope, sure not.

They were closing the doors, running out of product in January.

Right, right.

The fact that marijuana is now in our economy is huge. Marijuana alone can grow GDP, which is what?

We were all so excited when it got legalized. It was like, "Yay, do it over! Cool, it's legal." You know, and now we're taking a step back and going, "Wait a minute, you've got to do it right also."

212, 10-8. It's interesting because the people talk about it so openly. And there are a lot of people that you don't know if they smoke or not. You don't think about it too much, but now you know. It's very obvious because they talk about it regularly.

The confusion by both the public and then the officers on what is legal and illegal. The whole landscape has changed and nothing is real consistent right now. So, you have people doing things that they think are right and they aren't, and they're getting in trouble.

Pot for Gunnison County has been around and part of our culture for decades. From 2011 to 2012, students' perception of risk seemed to decrease significantly. They no longer saw pot use as risky as they did, and at that time was when Amendment 64 was coming through. We had a couple of different strategies to go out and try to influence how people believe and potentially some of that worked. Between 2012 and 2013, we saw that perception of risk go in the opposite direction, which is the direction we ultimately want because if they perceive pot to be more risky, they're less likely to use it. Amendment 64 came in, and it was modeled after some of the regulations for alcohol. The argument was, "Well, if you regulate it like alcohol, and you have 40% of our Colorado high school students using alcohol on a regular basis, are we now going to have 40% of the students using marijuana on a regular basis?" Access for students is reported as harder to get now than it was two years ago. How much of that is due to the legalization, I don't know. Marijuana industry is very, very regulated. I sit down with dispensary owners all the time and learn about all the hoops and pieces that they have to go through to track everything. It's regulated much more than the alcohol industry is.

We have people that have come in constantly saying, "We've waited 30 years for this," or "We can't believe this has finally happened. And we're from another state. I wish our state would do this." It's almost like coming out of the closet. People have been doing this for a long time, feeling guilty about it, are now able to do this legally. Two things that have really surprised me the most between having the medical business and the recreational business is the amount of people coming in for medical reasons has doubled because there's no fear of having a card or being on a list or anything.

There you are, thank you very much.

Under the medical license, we had a lot more younger people. And average age of our customers now coming into the store probably is late 40s. You know, I think the only tax that I would probably have difficulty with is the federal penalty that we incur. We are not allowed, as a normal business, to deduct any administrative costs, so all of the payroll and everything in this office here, we can't deduct that. So, basically, we have to pay tax on phantom income. Right now, we're sitting at almost 56% of our income goes to taxes and excise tax. Think about how many jobs this industry is creating. Thousands and thousands of jobs. We're drawing people into this town. They now come in, they're staying at the hotel, they're going to the restaurants, and everybody's tax base is now increasing. The black market, their tax base is zero. You make it too expensive and people will just go, "Oh, I'm just going to black market."

The industry is already here. The product is already being consumed and in multiple forms. We're just not capitalizing on the potential sales tax revenue that could come in. We're proposing right now a 5% sales tax on the retail sales, and then a 5% excise tax, or I'm calling it an "export" tax.

Now that marijuana is legalized in the state of Colorado, we can start having honest conversations about it.

We just want to end up on the right side of history, move forward in a positive light in this, and make sure it does work hand in hand with communities because it's not going away.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

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Aug 11, 2014

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