DE BEQUE — Because state lawmakers aren’t open to allowing gambling in this struggling western Colorado town, officials here plan to go to pot.
De Beque has become the first municipality in Mesa County to approve recreational marijuana. The town is now taking applications for pot shops in anticipation of offering the first cannabis-for-fun sales in the 117-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from Glenwood to the Utah border.
The De Beque marijuana push comes in the wake of a stymied effort to offer the only casino gambling near the I-70 corridor outside of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. De Beque officials earlier this year had pressed the Colorado legislature to add this town to the list of municipalities where gambling is allowed. But there was no support for such an idea.
So De Beque voters, in a 69-65 vote in April, decided to allow growers and sellers of recreational pot to take up residence in this town of 501. Since the license applications became available Aug. 1, one completed form already has been submitted and several other marijuana entrepreneurs have expressed interest in moving into the pot void in the northwest part of the state.
“De Beque has been boom and bust for a long time,” said new Mayor Forest Matis, who turned 28 during last weekend’s De Beque Wild Horse Days celebration. “Any movement forward to try to bring some money into town is good.”
In a place where Tuesday morning Bingo and Thursday evening quilting are nearly the only events on the weekly calendar, drawing in new people with recreational marijuana is controversial.
“I like it just the way it is here,” said Stan Novinger, a fifth-generation resident of De Beque who was lounging in a rare patch of shade at Wild Horse Days with other locals who are none too keen on marijuana.
The four-day event lured about 200 people into town to shoot at dynamite, fishtail their ATVs through a mud bog, vote for Little Miss De Beque and check out the mustangs penned in a downtown corral for the occasion.
Some think oil and gas companies that drill in the nearby Piceance Basin are going to avoid De Beque if it becomes a cannabis mecca. Locals say companies have warned workers that they will be fired if their trucks are spotted outside pot shops.
“I am sure there will be some hesitation on the part of oil and gas,” Matis said. But, he noted, one of the largest energy companies in the area still gave the town a donation for Wild Horse Days.
Matis said that while the town moves ahead on marijuana, it is still going to pursue gambling. Because the legislature refused to allow gambling through a statutory change, the town will try to take the issue to a statewide vote in 2016.
Lifetime De Beque resident Dave Graham, who was taking in the small car show at Wild Horse Days festivities, said he thinks gambling will be a better fit for De Beque than marijuana: It might even bring a seafood buffet to a town that currently has no restaurant.
As for marijuana, he said, “It’s a fad. It will pass.”
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, email@example.com or twitter.com/nlofholm