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Orchard City town council sees money in cannabis

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In spite of strong opposition from town residents at a February public meeting, the Orchard City Town Board is moving forward with the idea of allowing marijuana business in the town.

Mayor Ken Volgamore announced at a work session last week that he will appoint two trustees, Gynee Thomassen and Tom Huerkamp, to research the issue further. One of their contacts will be a lawyer with the Colorado Municipal League who advises municipal governments on marijuana business issues, Huerkamp said.

Town trustees favor commercial and/or retail marijuana business as a source generating money for funding the town government. Orchard City trustees have been discussing the marijuana revenue issue since last September when a straw poll of board members showed five of six favoring the idea.

Trustees have abandoned thoughts of generating cash for local government through a sales tax or property tax, both of which would require voter approval; something that is considered unlikely. However, allowing marijuana business to operate in town would not require a vote; it would require only that the town board repeal current ordinances against marijuana business, town officials have noted.

Some trustees believe they can allow large, indoor commercial marijuana growing operations to set up in the town and that they will provide revenue from an excise tax placed on production which, town officials add, would be shipped out to other areas of the state for retail sale. The business model is thought to sidestep community social issues linked to marijuana use, and an excise tax on production could sidestep Taxpayer Bill of Rights protections against increasing revenue for growing local government.

At Cedaredge about two years ago, a similar plan put forward by the town government would have allowed a marijuana candy maker to produce his confections in town and ship them elsewhere for sale. It was dropped following strong opposition by local residents. The Orchard City town board has also considered the idea of retail sales in Orchard City.

One participant of the town board's public meeting last February said that she wanted to open a marijuana business in Orchard City. Prior to that, town officials had received a detailed, pro-marijuana businesses report from a consultant in this area who has worked to set up grow operations in Saguache County. Volgamore's son and construction business partner has also been involved with the grow projects in Saguache County.

However, ideas of the commercial grow business have not been presented in any detail to the community for consideration. As a political matter, the public strongly opposes visions of a town future with Highway 65 lined by pot shops. The alternative thought of big, indoor, commercial grow operations in relatively out-of-sight locations that generate quantities of money for town government's unrestricted use is one the public has not considered.

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