Tiny Mountain Town Eyes New Gold RushThousands of people come to Cripple Creek for its gold mining history, hoping to strike it rich in one of its 13 casinos. And now, entrepreneurs and tourists may be rushing to Cripple Creek for another reason.
The 2022 mid-terms brought mixed results for cannabis legalization. But one small mountain casino community is betting on cannabis.
Cripple Creek, Colorado, is a colorful mountain town with a rich history. By 1901, the town boasted 30,000 people, 500 gold mines, and they had produced over $77 million in gold. But, when the federal government halted gold mining during World War II, the town simply never recovered. Today, it has fewer than 1,200 people.
The quaint village, which sits at 9,500ft on the west side of Pikes Peak, has a unique “old-west” vibe and runs on tourism. With haunted hotels, jail museums, and old brothels, the city is one of only three Colorado communities offering legal gambling. Since legalizing high-stakes gambling in 2020, nearly every casino in the tiny town is adding additional rooms and luxury accommodations.
A resident-led petition enabled a ballot question for retail cannabis in Cripple Creek, and with the majority voting yes, it is destined to become the first in Teller County to allow recreational marijuana sales.
From Gold Rush to Green Rush
Despite vocal opposition from the conservative leadership in the community, voters made it clear on Tuesday that they want city officials to reconsider its position on retail cannabis. Nearly 60% of constituents voiced their support for the change.
Just as the Cripple Creek Gold Rush in 1894 was the last great mining boom in Colorado, the town is also showing up late in the game for the Green Rush. When Colorado and Washington were the only states with adult-use cannabis, thousands of travelers flocked to the state to participate.
But, as of Tuesday, with the addition of Missouri and Maryland, 21 states and the District of Columbia allow cannabis sales to adults. In other words, people no longer need to travel to Colorado to partake.
Yet, according to Travel Agent Central, 29% of leisure travelers seek cannabis-related activities and destinations. Forbes estimates that the cannabis tourism industry is worth $17 billion. Cripple Creek’s history, casinos, and beautiful scenery may be the winning combination to attract a significant portion of cannabis tourism dollars.
The Wildwood Casino already uses the slogan, “Stay Higher, Play Higher” - a play on words regarding both elevation and betting limits. How far they could carry that theme now is limitless. And with just one look at Bennet Street, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision an old-world apothecary with special elixirs, tinctures, and products.
Other Winning Cannabis Ballot Initiatives
Another small Colorado community, Palmer Lake, approved a retail cannabis ballot initiative. They are also hoping cannabis retail can help revitalize their town. With a population of 2,600, the initiative passed with 55% of votes, allowing the two existing medical cannabis dispensaries to sell retail.
Missouri voters approved recreational cannabis on Tuesday with 53% of the vote, officially putting Kansas in an awkward position. On the East coast, Maryland joins the ranks with voters approving the cannabis legalization Question 4, with more than 65% of voters saying yes to retail cannabis.
This Year’s Naysayers
A shocking loss, proposition 300 failed once again in Colorado Springs, limiting the second-largest city in Colorado to medical dispensaries only. This comes as a considerable disappointment to established businesses who were hoping to expand their footprint with recreational consumers.
North and South Dakota voters put the issue to rest, voting no at 55% and 53%, respectively. Arkansas voters also squelched the momentum for cannabis proponents, with 56% voting against legalization.
Small Town Advantage?
An interesting angle from Colorado’s local election data is that small towns may offer cannabis activists and businesses an advantage. Estimated at nearly 500,000 people, Colorado Springs voted down retail cannabis by a margin of nearly 18,000 votes. But in Cripple Creek, despite an 18% gap, the winning tally came down to a difference of just 78 votes. In Palmer Lake, only 147 votes separate the supporters from the naysayers.
*At the time of this article, these election results are still considered unofficial.
Could small towns be the low-hanging fruit for cannabis education and legalization initiatives? Gaining a majority vote becomes much easier facing a smaller population. Conversations become more intimate, more personal, and more impactful.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”