SALT LAKE CITY — The first of possibly four retail marijuana shops recently opened in Dinosaur, Colorado, about 3 miles from the Utah-Colorado state line along U.S. 40.
While possession and use of cannabis products may be legal in Colorado, it is prohibited under Utah law.
"Just be aware, it is still illegal here in the state of Utah. If they choose to leave the state and bring it back into the state, there's nothing that's changed here in the state of Utah," said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Todd Royce.
"They'll still be charged with it and prosecuted for it."
Even though marijuana or edible products that contain cannabis extracts can be purchased legally in neighboring Colorado and Nevada, "they can't bring it into Utah or consume it in Utah. The laws in Utah have not changed," Royce said.
Retail and medical marijuana is sold in at least two other Colorado towns near the Utah state line — Cortez and De Beque in Mesa County — but neither is as close to the state's border as Dinosaur.
Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, lives about 20 miles from Dinosaur. As a sheep rancher who runs his livestock on ranch land in the Steamboat Springs area, Chew keeps abreast of changes in public policy in nearby Colorado.
Dinosaur's economy has been heavily dependent on energy development, he said.
"With the decline of that the last four years, they're kind of desperately looking for something to enhance their little community economy," Chew said.
In 2016, Dinosaur residents voted 102-50 to authorize the establishment and operation of retail marijuana stores as well as medical marijuana centers. The ballot question also authorizes cultivation, product manufacturing and testing facilities.
Rocky Mountain Cannabis is the first of what could be four retail shops in a town of about 350 people, said Dinosaur Mayor Richard Blakley.
Chew said Utahns in northeastern Utah already "flock over to Dinosaur" to buy lottery tickets.
"I really think that this dispensary is anticipating the bulk of their retail is going to be headed Utah's way. You can buy it there legally. It's no skin off the establishment's nose if people buy it there and head to Utah. I really think a big portion of their retail is going to be headed to our state, which I have concerns about because it's not legal in our state," Chew said.
When Rocky Mountain Cannabis opened in Dinosaur, the store owner posted signs warning customers not to cross state lines with its products, Blakley said.
"He warns everybody, 'If you are from out of state, do not cross that state line with it because you are illegal.' So, hopefully that helps a bunch," the mayor said.
Rocky Mountain Cannabis declined to comment for this story.
Chew said some Dinosaur residents he knows are concerned about retail marijuana shops opening in the small town, but others are excited at the prospect of "getting some income that they will put into their city coffers. Dinosaur has really been trying to figure out how to keep their economy alive," he said.
In 2017, Colorado collected more than $247 million in revenue from taxes and fees from retail and medical marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
The Denver Post reported combined retail and medical marijuana sales in Colorado topped $1.5 billion last year.
"I'm from the old school so I have really mixed feelings about it. I see some of the medical (marijuana) doing some pretty good stuff. The recreational? Of course, I don't do alcohol, either," Blakley said.
Dinosaur residents twice voted whether to allow marijuana sales in their small town. It was soundly rejected the first time but won handily in 2016.
"It won big time, which really surprised me. So we went through all the red tape to put it together," he said.
For two years, the town did its homework, which included visits to other small towns where retail and medical marijuana is sold.
Crime rates have not increased in those towns and the businesses have brought in healthy revenues "that have been really good" for the communities, Blakley said.
Blakley said he remains concerned about the long-term impact of retail marijuana. He's somewhat comforted that two of the planned retail establishments in Dinosaur will be operated by local residents.
"My son is one of them. And yes, we've bumped heads a few times about this," he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said retail marijuana is available in Grand Junction in Mesa County, Colorado. It is sold in De Beque, also in Mesa County,