Marijuana Facts

Pot took Parachute from bust to boom, but competition is coming

It was 2015, and the situation in Parachute was hitting bottom.

Natural gas prices had collapsed, and the town halfway between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70 was staring at a budget crunch the likes of which it had rarely seen.

Sales tax revenue had shrunk by more than $200,000 from the previous year, and Town Manager Stuart McArthur was preparing for a possible curtain call for the 1,100-population community.

“Restaurants were closed; hotels were closed,” McArthur said. “We had to do something.”

That something was cannabis. After voting down legal pot sales in 2013, Parachute’s town council revisited the issue two years later. In fairly short order half a dozen pot shops, including Colorado’s only drive-through weed store, sprung up.

Joe Amon, The Denver Post

The Tumbleweed Parachute Dispensary features a drive thru window at their flagship location in Parachute.

Parachute’s sales tax revenues have bounced back from a low in 2015 of $831,000 to a projected take of nearly $1.6 million this year. The town hired a new cop and fortified its public works department with more staff.

But new trouble may not be far away, as more and more towns along the I-70 corridor in Garfield and Mesa counties get into the cannabis game. Palisade, which is on Grand Junction’s doorstep, opened its first recreational pot shop just over a year ago, while De Beque has been slinging weed for a bit longer.

“When Palisade opened, it took the Grand Junction market,” McArthur said.

He estimates the two towns together have bitten into Parachute’s sales by about 20 percent.

And now competition is increasing from the east, where just last month Rifle — a mere 19 miles down the highway — approved recreational marijuana sales.

McArthur said Parachute still holds a trump card when it comes to capturing customers, most of whom are drive-by travelers plying I-70 in both directions.

Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Clouds descend on Battlement Mesa above the town of Parachute.

“That’s what we have going for us — easy on, easy off,” he said.

But even so, Parachute is planning for a future where neither natural gas nor marijuana is a prime economic engine. With the Colorado River flowing through the center of town, McArthur said outdoor recreation is a natural target for economic development.

The town has already used marijuana tax revenues to upgrade a basketball court and build a boat ramp into the river. It is negotiating the purchase of a 35-acre island in the river for campsites.

“We wouldn’t have been able to pay for all these things without marijuana,” McArthur said.