Diane Schwenke, the CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said at a meeting at Main Street Bagels this morning that the chamber’s board hasn’t even discussed or considered the possibility of bringing retail marijuana commerce to Grand Junction as a way to boost the local economy.
Schwenke made the statement after being asked about the chamber’s position on retail marijuana, which over the last two years has proven to be one of the biggest economic drivers in elsewhere in the state.
Marijuana became legal in Colorado 2012 after the passage of Amendment 64, but jurisdictions can opt out of allowing its sale or cultivation within their borders. The City of Grand Junction and Mesa County opted to ban marijuana commerce, but home rule cities in the County like DeBeque can still choose their own direction and permit marijuana commerce if their citizens desire.
“Economic Salvation” for DeBeque, But not Here?
DeBeque voters approved the sale of retail marijuana 2014 and haven’t looked back. The move has proven to be the town’s economic salvation at a time when the drilling industry has been fading.
As of May 27, 2016, 71 percent of the Colorado’s jurisdictions have decided to allow retail marijuana commerce. The result has been a distinct uptick in economic growth and sales tax revenues in the state in places where marijuana commerce is allowed.
But Grand Junction and Mesa County citizens have not been allowed to partake in the new marijuana economic boom. Instead, our local economy continues to languish while much of the rest of the state enjoys the prosperity legal marijuana has brought. Despite all the information now available about the economic benefits of retail marijuana, self-proclaimed local economic cheerleaders like the G.J. chamber scratch their heads and wonder aloud what they can possibly do to change our area’s fortunes.
Economic Growth? What Economic Growth?
The data is now in, and there’s plenty of it.
According to the Denver Post, the cannabis industry has bolstered retail and manufacturing job growth in Colorado. Retail sales of marijuana started in 2014, and that year Colorado saw an immediate 3.5 percent jump in employment. By February, 2015, there were 15,992 people registered to work in the cannabis industry. The marijuana sector is providing high-paying jobs, too. The employment website Monster.com says after getting a foot in the door of the marijuana industry as a trimmer or retail worker, the positions to which people get promoted often pay $50,000-$90,000/year. Marijuana has boosted the fortunes of a host of ancillary industries, too, like tourism, agricultural suppliers, residential and commercial real estate construction, manufacturing, analytic laboratories, security companies, accounting firms, legal support and other sectors. The state expects to collect about $94 million in cannabis taxes this year. The housing market in Denver is booming, and none of the dire predictions of dazed people stumbling around the streets and significant increases in crime have come true. In fact, Marijuana-related crime makes up only 1 percent of all crimes committed in Denver, and marijuana arrests have actually decreased (pdf).
Amid all this data, and despite its mission of promoting economic growth in our area, the Grand Junction Chamber has turned a blind eye towards the marijuana industry by failing to even consider, mention or discuss the possibility of bringing marijuana commerce to our area as an economic driver. In the mean time, our area has some of the highest unemployment, lowest wages and highest levels of suicide, poverty and homelessness in the state.
Schwenke also said at the meeting that she was unaware that there are now more than triple the number of cannabis shops in Colorado than Starbucks (690 marijuana storefronts vs. 216 Starbucks as of April 20, 2016) although she did say she was aware the cannabis industry has brought highly-paid jobs to the state.
When asked how the chamber board can continue to ignore this growing area of commerce and all the benefits it has been bringing to other parts of the state, Schwenke just shrugged and said “Sign the petition,” referring to the petition being circulated by citizens to make marijuana commerce legal again in Grand Junction.