6 months in, marijuana sales are 'low impact,' a 'non-issue,' officials say

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— The rollout of recreational marijuana sales during the first six months in Steamboat Springs has gone smoothly, according to local officials.

Steamboat’s first recreational marijuana store, Rocky Mountain Remedies, opened Jan. 8. Steamboat’s only other recreational marijuana store, Golden Leaf, opened March 7.

When looking at some local crime statistics, the numbers have not changed much, Steamboat Police Chief Joel Rae said Tuesday.

“I think it has been relatively low impact,” he said.

The most noticeable change was the number of citations issued to people for public consumption of marijuana. From Jan. 1 to June 30 this year, seven tickets were issued. During the same period in 2013, no tickets were issued.

Rae said he thinks most of the tickets issued were the result of people calling the police on people who were smoking in public. He said police will continue to strictly enforce the law, which forbids people from consuming marijuana in public.

Police also will be vigilant for people who are driving while stoned. During the first six months of this year, five arrests were made by Steamboat police for people driving under the influence of drugs, with marijuana being a contributing factor. During the first six months of 2013, five similar arrests were made.

“Probably our biggest thing is don’t drive under the influence of anything, and be safe, and don’t do it in public,” Rae said.

Even before recreational sales began, there were concerns about kids having better access to marijuana with medical marijuana dispensaries in communities. The concerns still exist.

During the first six months of this year, Steamboat police issued 19 summonses to people who were younger than 21 years old for possessing marijuana. During the same six-month period in 2013, 16 summonses were issued.

Rae said they have received no reports of dispensaries selling marijuana to anyone underage.

Steamboat Police School Resource Officer Kristin Bantle said that during the school year, she deals with marijuana-related incidents at the high school about once per week.

Rae said before recreational sales started in Steamboat, the schools were dealing with medical marijuana products in the schools. Vaporizers and edibles allowed for a discreet and odorless way for students to consume marijuana, and teachers and staff members have been trained on what to look for.

With the arrival of recreational marijuana stores in Steamboat, Steamboat Springs City Council member Kenny Reisman said there are more people in the community educating themselves about marijuana, and conversations between parents and children are more prevalent now because the drug is legal for adults to use recreationally.

“It allows them to have a pretty open conversation,” Reisman said.

In addition to being an elected official, Reisman also serves as the board chairman for Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a drug and alcohol prevention group that focuses on kids.

Reisman said concerns by Grand Futures about the accessibility of marijuana to youths began well before recreational stores opened. Reisman said there were concerns early on that medical marijuana was being marketed directly to youths through advertising.

“A lot of peers of mine were concerned this was the way it was going to be,” Reisman said. “The industry in town today has shown that’s not the way it is going to be.”

Reisman said they have been fortunate to develop good partnerships, including partnerships with dispensary owners, as the marijuana industry grows.

“It’s a work in progress,” Reisman said.

Exceeding expectations

For Rocky Mountain Remedies, co-owner Kevin Fisher said the demand from customers seeking marijuana met or exceeded their expectations.

“Our production has been ramped up to meet the demand without any problems,” Fisher said.

Fisher said he thinks police and the state have done a good job of implementing the recreational marijuana program.

“All in all, so far, we can call this a success,” Fisher said.

Rocky Mountain Remedies now has about 50 employees, about 10 more than they had when they strictly sold marijuana for medical uses. The business’s weekly payroll now exceeds $30,000, Fisher said.

During the first six months of recreational sales, the popularity of the edible marijuana products became one of the biggest surprises throughout the industry, Fisher said.

“The demand due to the novelty was a little bit more robust than I think anyone figured,” Fisher said.

Fisher said Rocky Mountain Remedies does not track the residencies of its customers, but he guessed about half are from out of state.

Fisher declined to disclose revenues from retail sales.

Statewide, the recreational marijuana industry during the first four months of the year generated an estimated $11 million in tax revenue for the state.

According to the city of Steamboat Springs, combined sales tax revenue from retail and medical marijuana sales currently accounts for less than 3 percent of the city's annual sales tax collections. The city and state have rules that forbid them from disclosing specifically how much tax revenues the Steamboat businesses have generated.

Industry supporters like Fisher see an opportunity for Colorado to increase its tourism business because of the legal availability of marijuana. So far, groups like the Colorado Tourism Office and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association have stayed neutral and away from marketing Colorado as a pot destination.

“The recreational sale of marijuana has been a non-issue in the business community,” Chamber CEO Tom Kern said in a prepared statement. “Steamboat’s two dispensaries are great Chamber members — supportive and very involved. Just like any other retail business, recreational marijuana has provided sales tax dollars to our city and state.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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