EDGEWATER — Colorado’s $ 1 billion marijuana industry has a big impact on municipalities across the state—especially small ones like Edgewater, population 5,300, just across Sheridan Blvd. from Sloan’s Lake. Edgewater’s six retail pot shops net the city $ 1.4 million in tax revenues this year.
Edgewater’s pot revenues have exploded over the past three years, with $ 400,000 in 2014 and $ 800,000 in 2015, according to Edgewater City Manager HJ Stalf. The city has used $ 3 million to repave all 12 miles of its streets and fix many sidewalks as well. “It took Edgewater 50 years to make these infrastructure improvements before marijuana came along,” said Stalf. “The streets had suffered from 20 years of deferred maintenance.”
But the money train could come to a halt if President-elect Donald Trump’s administration actively opposes legalized marijuana laws in Colorado and other states. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general if he is approved by the Senate, is an outspoken opponent of legalized marijuana. He is on record saying cannabis is “dangerous” and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana. It is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
Trump said on the campaign trail that he favors states’ rights and would not interfere with legal recreational-use states such as Colorado. But he has wavered on the issue, leading to concern because the lack of a presidential mandate could delegate decisions to Cabinet heads. Gov. John Hickenlooper told The Denver Post regarding Sessions: “It concerns me, what his intentions are and what his focus will be.”
Nationwide, Sessions could impact the $ 7.4 billion marijuana industry. Following the November election, 28 states and Washington D.C. have approved medical or recreational use of cannabis. The federal government may not be able to shut down every marijuana business, but businesses may find themselves battling an activist attorney general.
Meanwhile, Edgewater voters on Nov. 8 approved the construction of a $ 10 million civic center, to be financed entirely with pot tax revenues. The 40,000-square-foot civic center will be built on the north end of Walker Branch Park, on Harlan St. between 16th and 18th avenues. The civic center will include the police station and city hall, as well as a 10,000-square-foot library and a 14,000-square-foot fitness center.
“We can build it even without the marijuana revenue,” said Stalf. “We’re doing well now and we’ll still be okay. With marijuana revenue, we’ll have it paid off in eight or fewer years. But if it goes away, we’ll have to absorb the debt service of $ 750,000 a year, and that will take about 25 years.”
Edgewater plans to break ground for the new civic center in summer of 2017 and have it open in 2018. “Whether we’ll have the marijuana revenue going forward is the great unknown,” said Stalf. “The Feds might be busy with other things, like immigration, and not get to this. Hopefully, we’ll know in six months. We’ll issue the debt on the building next summer, so we hope this will be clarified. We wish for continued marijuana revenue, but that might not necessarily be the outcome.
“In any case, we’ve used the marijuana revenue only for capital projects, not for salaries. So we’ll have those fixed assets going forward. But the loss of that revenue would constrain other improvements in our community, like improving walk-ability. We’ve tried not to get used to the marijuana money, but we’d feel it.”
Colorado’s cannabis industry continues to set revenue records, with sales totaling $ 974.3 million for the first nine months of 2016, compared to $ 733.8 million during the same period last year, according to the Department of Revenue.
Stalf says Colorado’s marijuana industry is likely to level out, even without Federal interference. “With other states legalizing it, the out-of-state influence on our industry will go away. Edgewater will have more competition too if more cities in Jefferson County allow it. Right now many shoppers pass through Edgewater on their way to Golden or Evergreen.”
Edgewater voters approved Amendment 64, Colorado’s 2012 marijuana bill, by 73 percent, compared with 66 percent of Denver voters. Edgewater has experienced very few issues around the new businesses, Stalf said. “It’s been a benign industry; we’ve had few complaints. All the shops submitted business plans; they are well-run small businesses. They take responsibility and they don’t do anything that would jeopardize their license. They don’t take risks in this small community with lots of eyes and ears.”
He said that Edgewater isn’t likely to pass a social pot measure like Denver’s, in which customers may consume their own weed on businesses’ premises. “That idea is not well-received here,” Stalf said. “We just want retail sales, not a leading-edge club scene.”
What Edgewater does want is the new civic center, passed by 81.5 percent of voters. Most needed are the new police station and a library that is ten times bigger than the existing space. “Our police station is a former butcher shop at 25th and Gray,” Stalf said. “It’s an embarrassment. They deserve a modern facility, and they’ve been promised it for fifteen years. We need a place for community activities, and when the library mill levy passed last year, we said ‘Let’s do this.’”
He said that right now city facilities are spread out and “they have all seen better days.” “We have second-floor offices without an elevator that are not ADA compliant. It’s not cost effective to update what we have. Also, some city offices are in prime commercial properties that could be part of the city’s income. It’s better to get them back on the tax rolls as private businesses.”
Edgewater is changing as more young people move in, Stalf said. “Marijuana is a factor, but mostly it’s because we’re 10 minutes from downtown and close to the Highlands. Real estate prices here have doubled in the last three years.”
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