Committee to Grow Craig petitioning to put recreational marijuana on 2019 municipal election ballot
CRAIG — A petition drive officially kicked off Monday, Dec. 10; if successful, it will give voters the opportunity to consider an ordinance adopting the growth, manufacture, and sale of recreational marijuana through state-licensed recreational marijuana establishments within city limits.
“People haven’t had a chance to vote on this since 2014, and that’s the whole point of elections,” said Greg James, treasurer for the Committee to Grow Craig.
The committee has 30-days — until Jan. 9 — to gather signatures from 739 active registered voters living in Craig. That’s 15 percent of the 4,926 active registered voters on the rolls.
“I think the voters should have the opportunity to make their desires known on that point. Should they obtain enough signatures to get it on ballots, it’s not something we would want to stand in the way of,” said City Manager Peter Brixius.
The ordinance proposes to allow the following:
• Three retail marijuana dispensaries each allowed one cultivation license.
• No more than two cultivation licenses per person without a locally held license for a recreational dispensary.
• No more than four licenses per person for cannabis manufacturing, including the production of edibles, tinctures, concentrates, or any form of topical or transdermal solution.
Paul James, author of the ordinance, modeled it on Craig’s existing medical marijuana laws with a provision intended to give locals a head start in obtaining the limited licenses.
“We want to keep most of the money in Craig,” he said.
One of the three licenses is guaranteed to any existing medical marijuana dispensary, and for the first six months, individuals holding a medical marijuana license would be eligible to apply for a recreational retail license.
There is only one such existing business — Craig Apothecary — where Paul James works.
He understands people may take issue with the advantage he gives his workplace, but he said the ordinance doesn’t preclude others from obtaining medical licensure in advance.
“There is no limit on the number of medical marijuana licenses, anyone could open up. … After they read, this they could start their own and in time to qualify,” he said.
After the initial six months, if any licenses remain available, only people living in Craig and Moffat County would be eligible to apply, giving locals an advantage before larger operators could move in from outside the area, Paul James said.
“We don’t want to see LivWell or Native Roots come in there and hire a few people, pay a little tax, and send the money off to Denver or the Front Range where they are headquartered,” he explained.
These stipulations do not apply to businesses interested in cultivating or manufacturing cannabis.
“The last ordinance was highly regulated, but the more regulations you have on any business, the less successful they can be, and this industry already has plenty of state regulations,” Paul James said.
His proposal codifies the location of dispensaries to restrict their proximity to childcare facilities, churches, parks, schools, halfway houses, correctional facilities, other retail marijuana shops, and residences.
It also restricts the location of retail businesses to areas zoned for commercial community or light industrial development and restricts growing and manufacturing operations to light industrial zones.
If the petition is successful, the new ordinance would appear on the ballot for voter consideration during the municipal elections April 2.
Who gets a piece of the pot pie?
“As of right now we don’t have any plan for the tax revenue that might come from it; that’s not up for us. All we can do is get passed, and then it’s on city council to decide that,” Greg James said.
The ordinance does not include any taxing provisions.
“Colorado TABOR laws mean that any tax has to be prepared separately,” Paul James said. “City council will have no hesitation to tax something anyone is going to do here, so we thought we’d leave it up to them.”
The city council could refer a measure asking voters to adopt special transaction fees, sale tax for retail, and/or excise tax on wholesale recreational marijuana.
“It seems like 5 to 7 percent is generally a number that is usually acceptable,” Brixius said. “I can’t tell you where that is going to go.”
The town of Dinosaur passed a taxing measure before adopting an ordinance on recreational marijuana, which is earning the city roughly $200,000 per month in new revenue on sales by one shop, said town council member David Heinrich.
“I have seen communities do very well, like the town of DeBeque. That community completely healed themselves from the downturn in oil and gas with the amount of excise tax and sales taxes generated from operations down there,” Brixius said.
Paul James would like to see the city create a special fund directing any tax revenue raised locally from retail marijuana to support schools, the museum, library, or even a recreation center.
“Property and sales tax, no one can escape. Recreational cannabis, it’s something people choose to buy. We charge them a little more, and Craig gets a nice rec center. I could see that,” Greg James said.
Will a third time be a charm?
The current petition drive marks the third attempt by the Committee to Grow Craig to place recreational marijuana before voters since residents opted – 2,860 ‘no’ to 2,011 ‘yes’ — for a moratorium in 2014.
In 2016, the committee attempted to petition a measure to the ballot for the general election but failed to get the required 940 signatures, verifying 660, James said.
Petitioning onto the ballot is one of two ways a measure can be brought before the voters. The other is for council, upon a majority vote, to refer the measure to the ballot.
The Committee to Grow Craig has been down that path before; council has considered the issue twice.
The ordinance lost to a tie vote upon second reading in January 2017; a second attempt didn’t earn a motion for consideration in August 2017.
For the ordinance to make the April ballot, council must vote to approve the first reading of an ordinance referring a ballot measure at its Jan. 8 meeting.
Paul James and the committee aren’t counting on council support this time around.
“I’m tired of asking for permission to go to the voters,” he said.
Things have changed, but will they stay the same?
Paul James believes enough has changed since their last attempt to see both the petition and a ballot question pass.
“I’ve had people tell me that I’m dumb for doing this again. I’m not one to give up,” he said. “If we see it through to the vote, and it fails again, then I’ll stop. I’ll go and make log furniture.”
In determining the number of signatures required to make the ballot, only active voters are counted.
“The inactive list is usually those people who have moved away. Using the current list rather than an inaccurate list, we feel, is the fairest way to go about it,” said City Attorney Sherman Romney.
Residents who are not active registered voters have until Jan. 9 to register and sign the petition.
The committee is allowed to verify signatures as it goes about using the active voter list available through the Moffat County Clerk’s office, but City Clerk Liz White will govern the official verification and count.
The committee hopes to far exceed the minimum number of signatures.
“We plan to fill signatures the entire 30 days to get as many as we can,” said Greg James.
Committee members must circulate the petition.
“They can’t just stick it on the counter of the business, unless the circulation person is standing right there,” Romney said.
Circulators will have petitions available at Mudd Shack and The Apothecary — businesses owned or operated by the James brothers.
“America is about freedom and personal liberty, and that is what I love more than anything,” Paul James said. “People should be able to do what they want (including using cannabis) in their own time, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.