Pubdate: Thu, 24 Mar 2016
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2016 Star Advertiser
Author: Jack Healy, New York Times


HOTCHKISS, COLO. - This mountain town of coal miners and organic 
farmers wasted no time in saying no to marijuana. After Colorado's 
2012 vote legalizing marijuana, local leaders concerned about crime 
and the character of their tranquil downtown twice voted to ban the 
recreational and medical pot shops springing up in other towns.

But then coal crumbled. One mine here in the North Fork Valley has 
shut down amid a wave of coal bankruptcies and slowdowns, and another 
has announced that it will go dark.

The closings added to a landscape of layoffs and economic woes 
concussing mining-dependent towns from West Virginia to Wyoming. And 
as Hotchkiss searches for a new economic lifeline, some people are 
asking: What about marijuana?

"If we could get it legalized right now, we could create some jobs, 
and we need the tax revenue," said Thomas Wills, a town trustee who 
runs a used-book store and backs allowing some marijuana stores. 
"Downtown's not going to be all flashing green crosses and dancing 
marijuana leaves. You can make it as unobtrusive as you want."

Next month, Hotchkiss will vote on whether to undo its ban and 
welcome marijuana shops, and the traffic and taxes that could come 
with them. With cannabis sales soaring to nearly $1 billion across 
Colorado, and big states such as California poised to embrace 
legalization, wary towns like Hotchkiss are looking at the economics 
of marijuana and starting to reconsider.

Six Colorado towns are voting in April on whether to scrap their 
prohibitions on pot stores, and in January, another voted to lift a 
moratorium and approve wholesale marijuana growers.

Here in Hotchkiss, the push to allow marijuana has touched off 
conversations about the soul of the town. It is tucked into a sunny 
mountain valley draped with peach orchards and vineyards. But the 
coal mines up the valley were an economic mainstay for generations, 
and people say that tourism and boutique agriculture cannot replace 
good-paying mining jobs.

Wendell Koontz, a coal mine geologist and the mayor of Hotchkiss, 
said he worried about whether the three-person marshal's office and 
small town staff were enough to deal with the complications of new 
marijuana businesses, and about the reputation of a place that calls 
itself the "Friendliest Town Around."

"There's a concern that kind of atmosphere could be lost," he said. 
"And once it's gone, it's gone."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom