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Some Brighton city councilors expressed support for allowing marijuana dispensaries in town to compensate for COVID-19 revenue shortfalls.

Council briefly discussed the idea after an Oct. 27 study session presentation about the city’s third-quarter finances. By the year’s end, city staff projects $3.3 million less sales tax revenue (the city’s largest revenue stream) from what Brighton budgeted.

“Our sales tax has taken a pretty big wallop from COVID-19,” said Finance Director Maria Ostrom. Though Brighton’s year-to-date sales tax revenue is up from 2019, Ostrom attributes that to panic buying. When the year finishes, the city expects net sales tax revenue to be down from last year.

Compared to nearby cities, Brighton’s sales tax revenue rate is better than Commerce City’s, where there is no sales tax on groceries. However, Arvada, Aurora and Thornton all have higher sales tax revenue rates than Brighton right now. A reason for that, Ostrom said, is that all three cities allow dispensaries in town and collect a marijuana sales tax. The city could generate about $1 million in marijuana sales tax revenue if it allowed dispensaries, Ostrom added.

In 2013, council voted 6-1 to ban retail marijuana sales. People can still grow marijuana in their home for personal consumption.  

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pollack wasn’t psyched about repealing the ban. “Let’s get rid of this virus and then we can look forward to catching up,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Matt Johnston disagreed and said it’s an opportune time to allow dispensaries. “We need money to be coming in for the money lost from this pandemic. This is the opportunity,” he said. “It’s extra money that we can have to help our citizens.”

Johnston also talked about nearby cities receiving marijuana sales tax revenue from Brighton residents who go to out-of-town dispensaries. “We’re getting how much leakage? How much money is going to other communities?” he asked.

A few other councilors said they wanted to discuss the subject further at a future meeting. They took little action besides that. A few councilors said they would want the public to decide whether to allow dispensaries in town. Fort Lupton voters are deciding on a similar matter this general election.