Durango Herald: Bayfield decides to find out if town might benefit from legal pot sales

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 3:46 PM
'We all want to see the downtown revitalized and we want to see more people down here,' said Chris Young, co-owner of Bottom Shelf Brewery on Mill Street in downtown Bayfield.

It was just a first step, but it was significant, especially for a small Southwest Colorado town well known for its traditional attitudes. And for its view on the sale of pot.

At a Bayfield town board meeting in December, five people voiced their support for overturning the community's ban on the sale and cultivation of marijuana. No one spoke in opposition. That was significant, too. In previous meetings when the subject came up, residents faithfully turned out to speak against it.

Bayfield town trustees asked Town Manager Chris La May to explore the topic and look into the possible sales tax and fee benefits Bayfield might gain by allowing a legal dispensary to open for business in town.

A first step. And a smart one. Bayfield should not feel compelled to allow marijuana sales in town because some residents favor the move, or because every other community in the region is doing it - there are 10 dispensaries open in Durango, five in Cortez and four in Pagosa Springs.

But the town board does owe it to residents to explore the possibilities. Like most small Colorado towns, Bayfield is struggling to generate the revenue it needs just to pay for essential services, not to mention extras like recreation amenities. Marijuana sales may not prove to be an answer, but they would likely help. Mancos, for example, with two dispensaries, charges a transaction fee of $3 on every marijuana sale. The fee does not appear to be chasing customers east to Durango or west to Cortez; the money is staying in town to the benefit of residents.

"Bayfield suffers tax leakage on virtually everything," wrote David Black in an online comment on the Herald's Dec. 20 news story. "If approached in a sensible fashion, cannabis sales could have a very positive impact on overall economic activity in the community."

We expect to hear from Bayfield residents who disagree, as there are many who fear the less favorable effects legal marijuana sales have brought since the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012.

"The lessons that are being learned from communities that allow marijuana sales need close scrutiny by all," wrote Denise Galley. "There's much more to consider than the money aspect."

One step at a time describes the tone of Mayor Matt Salka, who wants more information before proceeding, and also that of trustee Michelle Yost, who said, "I'd like to take it real slow."

That sounds like a good idea, with opportunities at every level for residents to contribute their concerns and ideas on the issue.

Should Bayfield decide, after public discussions and hearings, to retain its ban on marijuana sales, we would support that decision. But residents need to know what they might be missing.

Editor's note: This editorial is from the Durango Herald's Dec. 29 edition.