Highland News Leader

Highland City Council approves marijuana dispensaries in city limits

Count Highland among the cities that will allow a marijuana dispensary in the city limits once recreational use becomes legal next year.

Since the state approved legalization of recreational marijuana effective Jan. 1, each municipality has had the option of allowing retail establishments to sell it and whether to levy an additional 3 percent sales tax on it. The Highland City Council approved both earlier this month.

It’s strange times for law enforcement, according to Highland Police Chief Chris Conrad.

“I think I understand now how revenue agents felt when Prohibition ended,” he said.

Marijuana as an illegal narcotic has been around Conrad’s entire career, but he said even for “those of us who grew up hearing ‘Just Say No,’” they have to start viewing it as similar to alcohol: A legal substance whose use is strictly controlled.

While people can partake in their homes, any potential retail establishment will be individually approved by the council and is zoned away from schools and churches. Only one establishment will be permitted — and then there are the taxes.

The Highland sales tax is 8.35 percent, of which the state takes 6.25 percent and county and regional sales taxes are also deducted. The city’s current take is 1.5 percent, but on cannabis sales, there will be an additional 3 percent for a total of 4.5 percent for Highland — or $45,000 for every $1 million in sales.

Highland PD undergoes training

Conrad said he and some of his officers have undergone training in this new system, including a tour of a cannabis corporation’s grow-retail outlet. Because of the heavy regulation in the cannabis industry, Conrad said, most sales are conducted through large corporations that can manage the requirements, rather than small mom-and-pop operations.HNL 1113

He said the people running the dispensary in Boulder, Colorado, expected to get most of the their traffic from young people.

“He said it was a college town, so he thought he’d be raking up money from college kids,” Conrad said.

Instead, Conrad noted, about 80 percent of their business comes from middle-aged mothers ages 40 to 55.

“We are just going to have to adjust how we look at it,” Conrad said.

Members of the city council expressed some reservations.

“I’m a little bit uncomfortable with this,” said councilman Richard Frey.

However, councilwoman Peggy Bellm said times are changing and at least the city will have some control over it.

“Who am I to say that somebody can’t partake when it’s legal?” Bellm said. “We claim we are a progressive community; it’s a song of the times changing. Whether I agree or disagree ... talk to the governor.”

Hipskind favors wait and see approach

Councilman John Hipskind said he’d prefer not to approve it at the beginning, wait and see how it affects other communities, hold town halls and possibly put it to a vote on the ballot for all residents to chime in.

“The vast majority of people I’ve talk to are against it,” Hipskind said. “I think it’s such an important issue, it should be left to the people.”

But Bellm disagreed.

“Because it’s legal I don’t think I have a right to tell the citizens that if they want to partake, they can’t buy it at a safe, legal, regulated business in town, rather than getting it on the black market where you don’t know what you’re getting or what it’s laced with,” Bellm said.

Hipskind was the sole no vote against both the ordinance permitting a dispensary in town and the 3 percent additional sales tax. Later he issued a press release explaining why he voted no.

“For many, the notion of marijuana being sold in our community simply comes with too many unknowns,” he wrote, citing questions about attracting “undesirable characters” to Highland, easier access for children and increasing crime.

“It turns out there has been very little research done on these topics, likely due to the fact that the wave of marijuana legalization is so recent.”

He also reiterated his call for town hall meetings or a ballot initiative.