Craig City Council listens to constituents talk about recreational marijuana concerns Tuesday night.

Photo by Noelle Leavitt Riley

Craig City Council listens to constituents talk about recreational marijuana concerns Tuesday night.

Craig retail pot measures gain traction — do they overshadow sales/use tax?

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Craig City Council gave the green light Tuesday night for a sales/use tax question to appear on April’s ballot, and they also dissected concerns about recreational marijuana being sold within city limits.

City Hall was packed with citizens who were interested in the marijuana ballot language reviewed by council.

Council approved the first readings of three marijuana ordinances that could appear as three separate ballot measures in April. The questions will not go to voters until the second readings are passed at the next council meeting on Jan. 24.

The first ordinance would legalize retail marijuana sales and stores, cultivation and testing facilities. Councilmen John Ponikvar, Jarrod Ogden and Derek Duran voted in favor of the first reading, whereas Joe Bird and Tony Bohrer voted against it.

Both Bird and Bohrer felt that the initial ordinance should wait until the November election as to not overshadow the sales/use tax measure that will now appear on the April ballot. The pair also wanted more time to study the facts surrounding the legalization of retail marijuana.

“There is a lot of information that I don’t have,” Bird said in regards to marijuana regulations, consequences and procedures. “I don’t want to have to be looking backwards.”

Bird acted as mayor pro tem, a role currently held by Kent Nielson who was not present at the council meeting and did not have a vote in Tuesday’s proceedings. City Attorney Sherman Romney said that Nielson also will not be at the next January council meeting.

Mayor Ray Beck started his newly elected role as a Moffat County Commissioner Tuesday and no longer is the mayor of Craig.

Two other marijuana ordinances dealing with the excise and sales tax of retail pot also passed first reading Tuesday night.

Specifically, the marijuana sales tax ordinance states that if retail marijuana sales are allowed in city limits, a municipal sales tax of 5 percent will be collected on all retail and medical marijuana transactions.

The marijuana excise tax ordinance states that the transfer or sale of cannabis between a retail cultivation facility and a retail marijuana store will be taxed 5 percent.

Thirteen people got up and spoke to council — some in favor and some against — about the potential legalization of retail pot in Craig.

Michael Lausin, a veteran and the owner of Solutions Oriented Systems in Craig, spoke in favor.

“As a business owner, I’m seeing a very disturbing trend of businesses leaving Craig or going out of business altogether,” Lausin said. “In the north Yampa block alone, I believe there are five empty store fronts and two empty restaurant locations.”

He added that the lack of tax being collected is hurting the city’s ability to provide services.

“Will retail cannabis cure our sales tax problems? Probably not, but by not taking the opportunity to make up some of the shortfall with a legal substance is being very short-sighted,” he said.

Three veterans also stood up in favor of the measures, while other business owners stood against it, including Vic Updike who owns Masterworks Mechanical.

Updike pointed to how the Committee to Grow Craig — a group in support of retail pot legalization — failed to gain enough signatures to put it to a county vote last November.

The petition to put a recreational marijuana ordinance on November’s ballot in Craig was unsuccessful.

The petition needed 940 signatures from registered voters but only 50 percent of the required signatures were collected.

“You know, if they have enough signatures to put it on the ballot, by all means, the right of the vote is in there,” Updike said, highlighting that wasn’t the case therefore it should not go on the city ballot.

Dave DeRose, a former business owner, said that the sales/use tax question is the most important measure on April’s ballot and it’s a bad idea for council to put the marijuana measures on the same ballot.

Bohrer shared the same fear of the pot measures overshadowing the sales/use tax measure.

“I look at this, you have one question on the ballot for sale/use tax. You have three questions on the ballot for marijuana… are we willing to lose the cake for the icing?,” Bohrer said, noting that pot questions should go to a county vote in November instead.

County commissioners can refer measures onto the ballot, and city council has the right to put a city measure to voters without the petition process — yet those living outside of city limits can’t vote on the issue.

If passed, the sales/use tax is projected to bring in an additional $2.4 million to the city of Craig in the first year. The marijuana sales and excise tax are estimated to bring in an additional $160,000 annually.

Duran stated it might be good to have it all on the same ballot.

“The attitude about tax in the community is that it’s a bad word,” Duran said, noting that if city taxes collected are so low that retail pot has to go on the ballot to fill the bank, then maybe people will — in fact — vote for an increase in sales tax to fix the city’s financial shortfall instead of approving recreational marijuana.

Contact Noelle Leavitt Riley at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @noelleleavitt.

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