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Colorado’s Marijuana Capital—It’s Not Denver

Chris Roberts

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The next time central casting is looking for “quiet small town, American; low crime, high home values,” Edgewater, Colorado should answer the call.

Situated just west of Denver proper along the shores of a (natural) lake, Edgewater has leafy neighborhoods with rows of single family homes situated on freshly paved streets—“the very picture of suburbia,” as the Denver Post put it.

How did the city of just over 5,000 souls achieve such idyll, just a generation after serious financial straits? It started selling marijuana. Lots of it.

Along with another burg adjacent to the Mile High City—Glendale—Edgewater has the highest number of recreational cannabis shops per-capita in the metro Denver area, according to the Post, a distinction that city leaders are just fine with. 

This makes the two towns Colorado’s de-facto cannabis capitals—not Denver—and proof positive that legal marijuana and functional small-town values can coexist. 

In Edgewater’s case, marijuana sales lasting until midnight every day are paying for those values.

Without weed, it’s hard to figure how the city would exist. Marijuana taxes account for 20 percent of Edgewater’s $6 million annual budget, according to the Post. (For perspective, consider: the entire state of Colorado collected $130 million worth of taxes on marijuana sales in all of 2015, according to the Cannabist.)

Flush with so much cash, Edgewater was recently able to repave all 12 miles of its streets. (Supposedly “weed-friendly” cities like San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., which have the worst roads in the United States according to one metric, should take note.) Future marijuana money will help fund a $10 million civic center, which will feature a new city hall, police headquarters, library and gym.

Let us repeat, so as to not forget—cannabis is paying for all this.

To pull it off, Edgewater did not rush to pass moratoriums on legal marijuana sales or scramble to find the flimsiest of excuses for a lengthy or indefinite delay for when voter-approved recreational cannabis outlets could open. Instead, when the first day of allowable weed sales in Colorado rolled around on Jan. 1, 2014, Edgewater was ready.

Elected officials approved regulations, stores were licensed and inspected—and what do you know? Nothing bad happened, and now Edgewater gets to have nice, new, shiny things.

As for Glendale, metro Denver’s other de-facto marijuana capital, rather than get ready for recreational cannabis sales, Glendale did nothing. There was no permitting, but there were also no ban. The city’s first marijuana shop opened in January 2015 and did business for almost two years before the city put regulations governing recreational cannabis on the books.

All the while, the city knew it was onto something.

Chuck Line, Glendale’s deputy city manager, went out to Edgewater one day in early 2014 to see legal weed sales in action for himself. At one shop, he told the Post, he was handed a ticket informing him he was the 400th customer that day—suggesting that the 1,000-square-foot store could do $309,000 in sales tax revenue in a year.

“It’s just incredible,” he told the newspaper.

While marijuana taxes account for only 3.1 percent of Glendale’s $31.7 million city budget—the city has strip malls, strip clubs, a big-time rugby stadium and other commercial activity filling its coffers—city leaders such as Line like the weed money just fine.

It’s a component that you wouldn’t want to miss,” he told the Post. “I don’t know why a community would want to miss out on that diversification.”

Great question—and one that communities in Massachusetts, Florida, California and anywhere else that reactionary city leaders are reacting to legal marijuana by passing a ban ought to consider.  

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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