Might Fruita go green?
Many cities around Colorado already have figured out where they stand on retail sales of recreational marijuana.
Now it’s Fruita’s turn.
The nearly 13,000 residents who call this city home will decide Tuesday whether to join a handful of other Western Slope municipalities in allowing anyone over the age of 21 to walk into a storefront and purchase pot. Also up for a vote is whether marijuana stores should be taxed an additional five percent of sales — money that would be used to bolster city coffers.
The city sent out 7,005 mail-in ballots for the election and residents can register and cast their votes right up until Election Day.
If the measure passes, Fruita would become the first city within roughly 90 miles of Grand Junction to approve retail sales, though it would be at least four to six months before anyone could open up a pot shop here.
The Grand Valley’s only outlet to legally sell marijuana is Colorado Alternative Health Care in Palisade, which sells medical marijuana. While recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, folks wanting medical marijuana still need a state-issued card to purchase it. From the Grand Valley, the next nearest outposts to buy recreational marijuana are in the Carbondale/Aspen area and Telluride.
Thoughts about whether a marijuana store will get the go-ahead to set up in Fruita vary widely among a sampling of residents.
“In terms of legitimizing it, you can’t overlook the economy here,” said one woman working at the Fruita Thrift Shop, 142 South Park Square. The store, which gives its profits back to the community, relies on volunteers for operations.
She believes having regulated retail stores would put average drug dealers out of business.
Her associate, another woman who also didn’t want to be named, said she already voted against the measure.
She claimed she was embarrassed that Colorado approved an amendment legalizing recreational use of marijuana. Still, she feared the measure could pass in Fruita.
Two workers at the Valvoline Instant Oil Change, 130 S. Plum St., said they supported a future with retail marijuana sales in Fruita. One worker named Seth, from Fruita, said the business would be good for the city. He was surprised that the city hadn’t considered a larger tax than five percent, maybe something more in line with current state, county and city sales tax of 7.9 percent. While he supported the measure, he believed it wouldn’t be approved by Fruita voters.
“They’re so super-conservative in Fruita,” he said.
FRUITA’S POT PAST
Fruita has had a love-hate relationship with marijuana. City councilors were the first in the Grand Valley to place zoning restrictions and other requirements on medical marijuana facilities after Colorado voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000, which allowed for the limited medical use of marijuana.
While stores soon proliferated in other Grand Valley locales, Fruita took a hard look at regulating the new industry, and the Fruita City Council established stringent conditions for potential medical marijuana dispensaries in town.
Two potential businesses applied to sell medical marijuana in Fruita, but neither met the standards. And in 2012, voters were tasked with deciding whether they wanted medical marijuana sold within city limits. They shot down the idea by nearly a 3-1 margin.
“If it were to pass (this time), we would end up putting up a similar level of regulations,” said Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney.
Others wonder whether the passage of time has changed attitudes. Folks wonder whether news of marijuana shops opening in Denver and bringing in extra tax dollars might take the stigma off marijuana.
Danielle Geary, a bartender at The End Zone, 152 S. Mesa St., hoped that residents had “become a little more open-minded,” but she doubted it.
“Fruita’s a small farming community,” she said, trailing off. “It’s not for me,” she said about using marijuana, “but I hope it passes.”
An elderly man entering the Fruita Community Center, 324 N. Coulson St., said he had voted in favor of retail marijuana sales, but he believes the measure won’t win approval with the majority of voters.
He used the example of a sales-tax increase to fund the Fruita Community Center taking two separate votes before gaining approval as an example of the voters’ reluctance for change. The facility is a “raving success” he said, but a number of his friends complain about its cost.
“This county is all Republicans,” the man explained. He, too, wouldn’t give his name. “They don’t like things like this. It will go down in defeat.”