City council hosts public forum to discuss local’s pros, cons of cannabis hospitality businesses

On Monday, August 24, Trinidad City Council and the City of Trinidad staff hosted a public forum to receive community feedback on the potentiality of opting into Colorado’s House Bill 19-1230, which allows for cannabis hospitality establishments. Many of those speaking against it cited the effect cannabis sales had on youth, though they also had a problem with it being used so openly causing unpleasant smells. Those advocating for opting in stated they also didn’t want to see people consuming products in public, nor visitors being forced to travel home with product illegally.

Starting the meeting off was Kim Schultz, owner of Trinidad’s Higher Calling U, LLC. After sharing her background of moving to town in 2003 to run the Chamber of Commerce, giving her an understanding of operating large events where consumption takes place safely. She was also the first cannabis dispensary to open their doors in town and said has seen customers bring their money into Trinidad and a lot of those customers aren’t the stereotypical “pot smoker”.

My customers are average age 55,” said Schultz. “They’ve been on the road all night or all day, they’re tired, and by the time they get to our higher altitude, they’re probably a little oxygen deficient. I’m going to always circle back to the safety factor of what we’re doing and how we need to manage our visitors and our consumers. We need to expect and plan for thee people to come to our area, and we want them to come back.”

One resident who said they had been a lifelong resident of Trinidad, stated he was opposed to the measure because of the extra responsibility it put on the city. He also shared that he was sure that everyone had smelled cannabis from Walmart’s parking lot, but Mike Evan, a local owner in the cannabis industry, followed up with sharing that it wasn’t from the regulated dispensary next door but from people who have nowhere to go.

“If you smell marijuana in the Walmart parking lot, it’s because somebody’s there smoking because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Evan. “I run a shop here in town and none of my employee’s that rent can legally smoke where they live. They don’t have anywhere to go there. The only option that they legally have is if someone like me invites them over and lets them smoke on my private property.”

Evan also said the spaces would no doubt be inaccessible to underage persons, just like clubs and bars.

“No one’s going to spend money to get a business just to let kids come in,” said Evan. “We have every square inch of our property under surveillance. Everyone in the cannabis industry, from the owner standpoint, has been more than willing to comply with any regulations. We’ll gladly meet any standards that get placed upon us.”

Las Animas County Health Department Director Kim Gonzales shared concerns with clean air and public health.

“Allowing smoking and marijuana is taking us a step back,” said Gonzales. “It’s confusing to our public. Marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer causing substances and toxic chemicals as tobacco. Public consumption of marijuana will contribute to already reduced perceptions of harm.”

Gonzales did not share from whom these claims came from or what entity conducted the studies finding carcinogenic substances in cannabis.

Robert Salts, who works in the industry, said there was a big issue with the industry not offering anywhere for visitors to have safe consumption spaces.

“For us, it’s about safety,” said Salts. “We’re selling cannabis to tens of thousands of people weekly and they have nowhere to go.”

Dina Ray, who said her family homesteaded here and her father’s family were coal miners, shared that she had seen generations of people who have struggled and thrived locally.

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“I was a proponent of legalization of marijuana,” said Ray, “not for my own personal use but I prefer it over alcohol. I, like the silent majority here, made sure that we voted in a council that provided unlimited opportunity for Trinidad to become a New Amsterdam of Colorado to provide jobs for the youth that had long disappeared.”

In Ray’s experience, she said she has heard nothing but good things about the cannabis industry from other businesses.

“The businesses I speak to are thrilled that they’ve had the cannabis industry here,” said Ray. “They were dying.”

Kayvan Khalatbari, who started one of Colorado’s first cannabis businesses in Denver and sold it to Willie Nelson in 2016, recently moved to Trinidad and said he had no interest in pursuing cannabis business here. Even still, he holds 15 years of experience in the industry and stated he was an advocate for sensible cannabis laws. He also brought up concerns with earlier unsighted statistics presented by other speakers.

“I wanted to remind everyone that the Center for Disease Control states that one in seven working age Coloradans die of alcohol related accidents and illnesses,” said Khalatbari. “Keep in mind that since legalization in Colorado, teen use is actually down according to John Hopkins and other studies.”

Khalatbari also expressed that even some of the previous speakers who stated they were opposed to hospitality establishments, were also, perhaps unknowingly, advocating for them.

“We also have an obligation to the health and safety of the visitors who come to Trinidad,” said Khalatbari. “If you’re an adult in Colorado, you can make the informed choice to purchase either alcohol or cannabis, but you can’t yet choose to consume them in equally responsible environments.”

Philip Lee also joined the forum and said he had an interest in investing in the industry for the purpose of helping veterans.

“Some of them are being routinely handed opioids,” said Lee. “These guys want cannabis to ease their pain and to increase their appetite, to fight their cancers, and other ailments that cannabis can do.”

He also sited earlier negative views of cannabis, which he felt was untrue from personal experience.

“My child, who is now 30 years old, was brought up around cannabis,” said Lee. “Today, he works in Hollywood in the video industry and makes a godly sum of money. He has never tried to commit suicide and he doesn’t touch alcohol. I, myself at 65 years old, had a recent head to toe physical and have no cancer, no blood illnesses like high cholesterol, or anything like that. I’m in great health for a 65 year old man and I owe it all to cannabis. I’ve used it daily for 45, maybe 50 years.”

Following the presenters, Mayor Phil Rico said they would take this information to see what direction the city will go with the issue. On both sides of the issue, individuals repeatedly expressed their appreciation for the city holding a public forum to hear community feedback on an important issue for the city.

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