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Buying pot, other lessons learned from council's fact-finding trip to Colorado

Council Brief: WB seeks support for liquor expansion plans on mountain


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Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden never thought she'd be paying US$18 for a single joint, but that's the going rate for some pre-rolled "Blue Cheese" bud.

In Colorado.

Her visit to LEAF in Aspen was a personal shopping excursion while on the recent four-day council fact-finding trip to the Rocky Mountain state.

"I wasn't interested in smoking it," she laughed, of her solo visit to the store. "I just wanted to see what the inside of a shop looked like."

It was nicely-appointed and very weird, she said, to step into a legal dispensary in Aspen, and have her choice of marijuana — in grams, in joints, in edibles — all of it locally sourced down the road in Rifle, all of it legal.

Her joint came in a canister, much like a cigar canister, complete with a filter.

"This is a substance that here in British Columbia if you are in possession of it, let alone purchasing it, you could be faced with criminal charges," said the mayor. "So, yes, it was definitely odd."

But timely, given that prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana for recreational use. There is no timeline for that legalization; the new government will first need to figure out how to tax and regulate it.

"Talking with people, both elected officials in Colorado and just people on the street, it's been a complete non-event, except for this revenue bonanza," said the mayor.

Colorado's legalization of marijuana is predicted to add about $100 million in tax revenues to state coffers.

That was not the impetus for the trip; rather, it was about gathering information and best practices from the competition. All seven members of council attended, along with municipal staff. In total, there were 13 Whistler representatives.

The council trip covered four main ski resort towns in relatively close proximity — Aspen, Vail, Snowmass and Breckenridge. All were quite markedly different from one another, said the mayor.

"There are things that they do very well that we can learn from, and there are things that we do very well in comparison," she added.


All of the internal town transit systems in those resorts are free.

"Transit is a big success for each of those resorts," said Wilhelm-Morden.

Transit is funded through sales tax revenues and the towns can decide on that tax.

In Breckenridge, for example, they are looking at putting a sales tax on lift tickets for the very first time and using those revenues to assist them with issues around transportation and parking.

"They see a direct correlation between traffic issues and the ski hill," she said.

Outside of the resorts, the I-70 is the national interstate highway that connects three of the four resorts.

That thoroughfare is a real issue for those resorts.

They're seeing massive congestion on the Fridays and the Sundays.

On Sundays, airport carriers now recommend people take eight hours to get to the airport for a trip just slightly longer than Vancouver to Whistler.

"We looked at what our future might look like and it wasn't pretty," said Wilhelm-Morden, adding that the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort wasn't far from their minds in this context.


Housing, on the other hand, was something to celebrate and council returned home with a renewed sense of the value of the land bank land at Cheakamus Crossing, which can be used for future housing projects.

Whistler houses more than 80 per cent of its workforce in the resort municipality; Aspen, by comparison, is around 11 per cent, Vail in the 20s, Breckenridge is aiming to house 40 per cent.

"All of those resorts do a 'means' test' for people who live in affordable housing," said Wilhelm-Morden. "So you don't just have to be an employee. You have to earn no more than a certain amount... They couldn't believe when we said we had no means testing. They all shook their head in wonderment. So that will be certainly something that we'll want to talk about."


Arts and culture was a big part of the council agenda with a visit, particularly in Aspen where council toured the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Art Museum and Theatre Aspen.

It was so much a part of the agenda that Councillor Steve Anderson initially volunteered to sit out of the trip, his focus on council more on the traditional "nuts and bolts" of local government — covering potholes, delivering clean water, snow clearing.

He had a metamorphosis of sorts in Colorado.

He highlighted things like the visit to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, in the heart of Snowmass Village, close to Aspen.

The ranch is a non-profit organization offering workshops and artist-in-residence programs for the visual arts.

There was another area in Breckenridge, a part of town transformed by potters studios, woodworking, metal-working, and painters' studios.

"I was really impressed by all these things that I didn't think I would be impressed by," said Anderson.

"I learned a lot and I think everybody else did too."

Sue Adams, secretary of the board of the Audain Art Museum, Anne Popma, community cultural officer, and Suzanne Greening, the executive director of new Audain Art Museum, on their own fact-finding mission, joined council for part of the trip.

"It's always wonderful to go and see what's being done elsewhere," said Greening, calling it "travelling with purpose."

One of her big takeaways from the trip is just how much support there is for the arts in Colorado.

This is particularly timely given the imminent opening of the Audain Art Musuem and the municipal focus on things like the Cultural Connector.

The trip is expected to come in close to budget at $20,000, said the mayor. They have yet to do a final tally with all expense forms.

As for the $18 joint, the mayor left it as a tip for the cleaning staff at the hotel.

It's not clear if this was expensed or not.

Council supports WB's liquor expansion plans on mountain

Council is backing Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) plans to extend its liquor licences on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

The changes will pave the way for liquor-serviced events high in the alpine at locations like the top of the Harmony Chair and far into WB's boundaries such as the Blackcomb Glacier. The change will give WB certainty and timeliness in its ability to host events as is all part of the recent provincial overhaul of outdated liquor laws.

Whistler Blackcomb anticipates the changes will pave the way for events such as family barbecues, private catered cocktail parties, beer gardens, summer picnics, branded pop-ups and ski and snowboard events, among other things.

"We expect to use the (Temporary Use Area's) for a wide variety of functions so that we meet the demand for a wide guest base," wrote Paul Street, WB's vice president, food and beverage, in his letter to municipal staff.

"We have had numerous requests from privately catered groups to have an outdoor bar set up for them in the mountains, which we see as a fantastic and unique opportunity for our destination guests."

If approved by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, the TUA endorsement will pave the way for up to 52 separate events on the mountain.

There are six TUA locations on Whistler and six on Blackcomb.

The six Whistler areas are: the Creekside World Cup Plaza, the Whistler Peak Chair Flats, the top of the Harmony Lift, the bottom of the Harmony Lift, the Boneyard at the bottom of the Bike Park and the Roundhouse Lodge and Peak 2 Peak.

On Blackcomb Mountain the locations are: the Blackcomb Glacier, the Glacier Creek Lodge, the Rendezvous Flats, the Blackcomb Super Pipe, the tube park, and Base 2, parking lot 6.

The on-mountain TUA events are far away from residences and accommodation and not likely to cause noise problems. All TUA events must end by 10 p.m.

Council approval is needed for any events of more than 1,000 people.

Its recommendation will now go before the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to help inform its decision.