Shops on Main Street in Breckenridge sell T-shirts that read: “Dude, this whole town is high,” a double-entendre on the resort area’s elevation and its party-spot vibe.
From the ski area to the town’s aging ski bums-turned-respectable citizens to the local chamber of commerce, everyone here winks and turns a blind eye to a little harmless pot consumption.
But now that marijuana is legal statewide, the prospect of retail pot shops in the historic downtown has some residents clutching pearls and expressing dismay that it would detract from the “family-friendly atmosphere” in Breckenridge.
This, of course, is a town that regularly closes down its entire Main Street for big, drunken bashes like last month’s Oktoberfest, boasts more than 70 drinking establishments, crows about every magazine’s “best après-ski” designation, and markets heavily on college campuses in hopes of attracting boisterous spring-break crowds.
Some might call that a paradox. Some might say it’s hypocritical.
The Breckenridge Town Council — torn between a vocal group of establishment tongue-cluckers and those in favor of (or indifferent to) pot shops — called it a dilemma and punted, choosing to hold a non-binding special election in December for guidance on where to allow marijuana shops.
Funny, but the town doesn’t restrict the location of any other lawful businesses, ranging from those ubiquitous bars to the numerous real-estate offices to the upscale boutiques that line Main Street. Reading the — ahem — tea leaves, it’s probable that the referendum will once again establish that Breckenridge residents are more Cheech and Chong than Dolce & Gabbana.
Back in 2009 — before it was fashionable — the residents voted nearly 3-1 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, prompting international news coverage about becoming the “Amsterdam of the Rockies.”
Then, in 2012, more than 70 percent of Breckenridge voters again supported the statewide ballot initiative Amendment 64 that legalized recreational pot.
Now, I’m not a particularly strong defender of the marijuana crowd. It’s never been my thing, and I don’t really associate with hard-core potheads because I’ve found their low-energy lifestyle to be rather boring.
But I don’t drink much, either, and it’s hard for me to understand how bars and taverns are accepted and heavy drinking even is encouraged by the establishment crowd, while pot shops somehow would tarnish the Victorian town’s image worse than a 21-year-old psychology major’s vomit on the sidewalks in March.
The fact is that since pot was legalized at the beginning of the year and retail operations have sprung up across the state, none of the dire predictions of the doomsayers have come true. Retailers haven’t sold pot to juveniles. There hasn’t been a discernible jump in crime among potheads. Communities haven’t seen dramatic rises in social problems, nor have they become inhabited by hordes of zoned-out zombies.
Differing perspectives on pot tourism
Sure, a few people have tried legal pot — perhaps for the first time since college — for the novelty of it, and some probably even have started using it regularly in the privacy of their homes.
But in actuality, the biggest change is that people who smoked dope previously now are doing it legally — and paying taxes on it — and those who didn’t imbibe are not all that much more inclined to start now.
Interestingly, the town already has a pot shop on Main Street, the second-floor Breckenridge Cannabis Club, which quietly has existed without problem for five years. It would be forced to move if the referendum flops, leaving in place an on-hold ordinance passed by the previous town council that prohibits pot shops downtown.
Still, those who are wringing their hands about the intrusion of pot shops in town either are playing dumb or are simply naive about the curious smoke wafting over them on the lifts.
It is a ski town, after all.