The city of Golden is home to the world's largest single-site brewery, owned by Molson Coors. (Lindsay Pierce, The Denver Post)

Column: In Coors brewery’s shadow, Golden bans recreational pot sales

As a native and lifelong resident of the Centennial State, the quaint foothills city of Golden has always represented something uniquely Coloradan to me. In fact, I’ve thought a number of times while fishing Clear Creek in downtown Golden or grabbing a bite at the bars along Washington Avenue that Golden is Colorado.

The small city is charmingly Western, complete with the kitschy “Howdy, Folks: Welcome to Golden” arch that greets visitors. It’s uncommonly outdoorsy, and you’ll see more bike jerseys and kayaks in downtown Golden than you will McDonald’s or Burger Kings. And it’s also home to what is perhaps Colorado’s best-known export — Coors beer, along with Blue Moon and other smaller sub-brands — brewed in the world’s largest single-site brewery right there in Golden.

On June 5, the Golden City Council banned another adult substance Colorado has become known for when they voted down recreational marijuana sales in city limits. Mayor Marjorie Sloan defended Golden’s wholesome image saying, “Our brand is a healthy community. We want to protect our image and our community.”

Golden is no doubt home to a healthy community, but as its biggest employer — and the company whose omnipresent scripted logo is seen throughout the entire town — Coors isn’t contributing to the city’s level of physiological health. In the same way that some folks crack open an ice-cold Coors Light after a day at the office, others light up a bowl of locally grown Headband or Blueberry to relax. Beer is delicious, but marijuana has legitimate medicinal uses — even Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Oz and many of their colleagues are starting to agree with the 20 states that have legalized the sale of medical marijuana.

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So you can grab a stool at legendary Golden dive bar Ace-Hi Tavern when it opens at 7 a.m. six days a week to enjoy a fresh Coors or Coors Light from their tap but you can’t purchase legal recreational marijuana anywhere in the city’s limits at any time of day — for “health purposes”? It seems backwards.

Some cannabis activists will consistently demonize alcohol in their arguments for legal marijuana. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This is a situation where the comparison works: The Coors brewery in Golden is (we’ll say it again) the world’s largest single-site brewery where 1,100 employees brew and package 11 million barrels annually — and it made Golden what it is today. Though beer is truly wonderful, it has no known medicinal qualities. But as marijuana gains support in medical fields as well as among the general public for its various uses, the city of Golden is banning its recreational sale.

When I interviewed conservative author Michelle Malkin about her feelings and experiences with marijuana, she spoke in support of Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana statewide but allowed individual municipalities to make up their own minds on permitting shops to open within their city limits. And we agree that this kind of local control is a good thing for the communities and the state’s overall “marijuana experiment.”

But does Golden — the county seat of Jefferson County, which passed Amendment 64 by 54 percent in 2012, and home to Coors’ mammoth brewery — look a little silly with its newly implemented ban on recreational marijuana? Yes, it does.

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We asked a few industry leaders about their feelings on the Golden ban and found a refreshing amount of variety in their opinions.

Marijuana Policy Project director of communications Mason Tvert called the move “Golden’s loss.”

“The decision to keep a city ‘alcohol-only’ and prohibit the sale of a safer alternative is baffling,” Tvert said. “Some elected officials are still less evolved than their constituents on this issue, but that won’t last long. Most people think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and future council members will surely recognize that. It’s unfortunate for Golden residents, who will need to travel to neighboring localities to purchase marijuana. It’s fortunate for those localities, which will benefit from the tax revenue.”

Bob Eschino co-owns the popular Incredibles line of cannabis-infused chocolate bars and took a lighter approach: “They have the right to make those decisions at a city level, as hypocritical as they are. I would be interested to see the hearings from when the brewery moved to town and see if they faced the same prejudice? Maybe that’s why the brewery ended up in Golden, because no one else wanted it in ‘their backyard’? As much as I would like to see the cannabis industry embraced nationwide, that is a long way off. As long as we keep improving the industry and keep operating in a responsible manner, we will continue to gain support.”

Tom Angell is the chairman of Washington D.C.-based activist organization Marijuana Majority: “Banning retail marijuana stores won’t make marijuana disappear from Golden. It just means that residents will spend money — and generate tax revenues and jobs — in other cities and towns or that they’ll get marijuana from the black market. This is shortsighted and won’t do anything to achieve the mayor’s stated goal of maintaining a healthy community.”

Other bans: Recreational marijuana sales haven’t been embraced by all of Colorado. Some communities have outright bans, while others have moratoriums in place