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Thursday, December 11, 2014
Breckenridge Town Council sides with voters marijuana question
Brandon Evans / firstname.lastname@example.org
After six months of heated debate, Breckenridge Town Council sided with voters Tuesday on an ordinance banning retail marijuana along Main Street. Come Feb. 2, Breckenridge Cannabis Club, one of the oldest dispensaries in the county and the only shop in downtown Breck, will likely be forced to find a new storefront.
The council voted 6-1 in favor of upholding the ban, with Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence as the lone dissenting voice. While the special election didn’t require immediate action from the council, it drew 1,325 voters — nearly half of the town’s voting population — and town officials didn’t want to keep them waiting. The decision came shortly after the results were presented at Tuesday’s regular meeting, with a CNN film crew on hand to capture reactions from the council and owners of Breckenridge Cannabis Club.
“I was ready to ratify the voters’ decision,” Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said. “I think the result was very decisive and I think it was important for our community to bring closure to this issue.”
As an advisory election, the public vote (925 no, 400 yes) was simply a guideline for the council. Retail marijuana has been banned on Main Street since it became legal statewide in January, but after four years as a medical dispensary, Breckenridge Cannabis Club was grandfathered into the ordinance. With their lease due to expire, the owners first approached the council in June for a November ballot question, which kick-started the long, lengthy process leading to this week’s special election.
“We initiated the conversation, so that’s one reason it’s hard for us to handle the outcome,” said Stephanie McGuire, a co-owner at Breckenridge Cannabis Club. “My gut reaction was definitely disappointment. It was hard to not take it personally, even though I think the question was more about new dispensaries than ours.”
“It’s a dangerous precedent to set by kicking out a business. Main Street since day one has been part of our business plan, and for that to be pulled out from under us at this point, it’s been devastating. It’s part of who we are and it’s part of who the Breckenridge Cannabis Club is.” Stephanie McGuire co-owner, Breckenridge Cannabis Club
Over the past few months, McGuire believes the original question — should her dispensary be allowed to stay in the same building — evolved into a much larger and more confusing issue. That larger issue didn’t just address her business, but rather the future of up to five retail dispensaries on Main Street.
“The sole question we asked was to keep our current location, and that was the only conversation we wanted to have,” McGuire says. “It snowballed, so to speak, into a bit of misinformation. I think people were confused about what they were voting for.”
The people’s voice
The election was a hot-button issue long before the final vote. It drew public comment in forums from the council chambers to Facebook, with residents voicing fears about a tarnished town image and the breakneck evolution of the marijuana industry as a whole. Owners from dispensaries on Airport Road eventually voiced concern over the club’s monopoly on downtown marijuana.
As the issue evolved, campaign cash added yet another layer of urgency. Breckenridge Cannabis Club spent close to $1,000 on pro-marijuana door hangers and community outreach sessions. On the flip side, a group of locals formed the issue committee Breckenridge for Thoughtful Marijuana in late October. Organizers made phone calls and held meetings to share their side of the argument: They were against a slew of new dispensaries on Main Street, not marijuana in general. It’s the wrong location at the wrong time for a town with a carefully branded image, they argued.
“You can’t gauge it (the impact of marijuana) and we have no data, but if you take a look at brand marketing and the development of a brand, Breck has a very strong brand,” said Jerry Dziedzic, one of the issue committee’s three founding members, along with Jack Wolfe, husband of Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe. “It takes 10 or 15 years to create a brand like that, and one quick, high-risk decision could hurt that.”
For Dziedzic, the election was an example of democracy in action. He applauds the council for taking charge of the issue and opting for a public vote — a sentiment shared by the last few voters to visit the polls before they closed Tuesday.
“It’s not about the win,” Dziedzic said. “It’s celebrating democracy in America. People went to work to inform an electorate and help them decide on an issue, and the voters spoke. That’s what the democratic process is all about.”
While Dziedzic couldn’t give a concrete number on donations, he said his group received multiple donations from multiple sources, ranging from $25 to “significant gifts.”
McGuire admits they weren’t prepared for such fierce opposition.
“I think we underestimated the opposition’s campaign and how seriously they took the campaign,” McGuire said. “We wanted people to come out and give their opinion, and I think it turned into a much larger battle than that.”
Since the decision, McGuire has reached out to dozens of voters for post-election thoughts. In some cases, voters said they would’ve voted yes if the question were split into two parts: one for new dispensaries on Main Street, the other for Breckenridge Cannabis Club alone.
Councilwoman Lawrence, the only member opposed to the ordinance, agreed.
“I wasn’t going against the vote of the people,” Lawrence said. “I was truly about allowing the existing store to remain, and that was really our original question. I’m just not comfortable with moving a business that has been on Main Street for five years.”
In those five years, Main Street has undergone a sort of renaissance, and McGuire believes Breckenridge Cannabis Club has played an important role.
Still, with the Feb. 2 deadline looming, the dispensary is only able to petition the council for another vote or file an injunction with a county judge. Main Street is built into the business, McGuire said, and without it, she’s wary of the future.
“It’s a dangerous precedent to set by kicking out a business,” McGuire said. “Main Street since Day One has been part of our business plan, and for that to be pulled out from under us at this point, it’s been devastating. It’s part of who we are and it’s part of who the Breckenridge Cannabis Club is.”