Craig recreational marijuana initiative lacks signatures as deadline looms
CRAIG — As folks trickled into the Center of Craig Friday evening, pizza and other snacks welcomed those in favor of legalizing the recreational growth, manufacture, and sale of marijuana within Craig city limits.
The ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries in Craig was launched Dec. 10, led by Paul James, who works at Craig Apothecary.
Several elected officials attended the gathering of about 30 residents, but it wasn’t clear Friday whether James and Committee to Grow Craig would have the 739 signatures needed to put the question before voters by the Jan. 9 deadline.
A similar city ballot initiative failed in 2016, as did a county-wide initiative in 2014.
“If we fail, we’re gonna go again,” James said Friday.
James said he also plans to run for city council if another recreational legalization ballot initiative fails, because he’s not sure Craig Apothecary will be able to stay open without it.
The ordinance connected to the ballot initiative would provide for no more than three retail marijuana dispensaries inside Craig to have one cultivation license. Each establishment would be allowed to have no more than two cultivation licenses per person without a locally held license for a recreational dispensary. The ordinance would cap the number of cannabis manufacturing licenses to four licenses per person. Cannabis manufacturing licenses would cover the production of edibles, tinctures, concentrates, or topical lotions.
James said the ordinance seeks to give locals an opportunity to own any new licenses or marijuana businesses before outside interests can.
James brought Trevor Burkholder — a sales representative with Organa Brands — to speak to the small crowd. Organa Brands is one of the largest distributors of cannabis in North America. Burkholder currently manages about 150 accounts in and around Colorado and knows how local municipalities and counties are profiting from the sale of recreational marijuana.
“Recreational cannabis gives the power back to the people,” he said.
Burkholder pointed to nearby cities such as Dinosaur, De Beque. and others whose local budgets have been bolstered — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year — by recreational legalization. Having worked closely with lobbyists and others petitioning the federal government in Washington, D.C., Burkholder is convinced national legalization is coming. He worries once the federal government legalizes or decriminalizes marijuana, regulations and profits will become more complicated for those local governments who haven’t already established local bureaucratic support systems geared toward responsible regulations of recreational marijuana use.
“Once the federal government gets their hands in the cookie jar, it’s gonna be a totally different story,” Burkholder said.
Craig Mayor John Ponikvar, who was in attendance Friday, said Committee to Grow Craig will need help selling its initiative to voters.
“I was hoping there’d be more people here,” Ponikvar said. “I was hoping there’d be more energy that they could put forward and really help sell this to the community.”
But, Ponikvar isn’t totally convinced recreational legalization will be the massive infusion of cash into city coffers some think it will be. He said while Committee to Grow Craig’s estimate of some $7,000 per month in extra tax revenue would do well to help shore up Craig’s police department and other services, an extra annual $84,000 from recreational marijuana sales tax may be wishful thinking.
“Steamboat Springs is doing $45,000 to $46,000 per month right now,” the mayor said. “Dinosaur is predicting $250,000 this year in taxes, because they have a large draw from Utah. People come to Steamboat, they fly into the airport, and they go to the marijuana store before they ever go to their condos. We don’t have that same demographic here. I just don’t see it being a big economic driver for our community.”
Eventually, James and Burkholder opened the meeting to questions from those in attendance. Crowd questions and reactions included the need to diversify Craig’s economy away from coal energy and traditional agriculture. Residents are worried about one of the power plant units at Craig Station shutting down in 2025, so many wanted to legalize agricultural hemp for a host of manufactured products. Alcohol prohibition comparisons were made, and many were upset that residents have to send tourists and visitors out of town for marijuana and other attractions that simply don’t exist in Craig.
Moments after Craig resident Dale Camp signed the petition, he expressed frustration that the nearby city of Hayden just built a multi-million-dollar high school using revenue from marijuana cultivation.
“That’s huge,” Camp said.
“If we could do some cultivation … I think there’s an opportunity there,” Ponikvar said. “Oak Creek and Hayden are really profiting off of cultivation. There’s no recreational marijuana in Hayden, but the cultivation on their hill and in their industrial park is really providing a lot of good taxes for the city of Hayden. So, I think that’s really where a lot of our opportunity lies.”
According to James, Committee to Grow Craig had about 500 valid signatures as of Friday — several hundred fewer than the 739 needed — but the committee was organizing a last-minute door-knocking campaign utilizing volunteers in Craig.
If the ballot initiative fails again, the Craig City Council could vote again to put the question before voters. But that also failed when last tried by a single council vote, Ponikvar said.
“As a city council, probably the biggest thing we can do is refer the question to voters,” Ponikvar said. “At that point, they can come up with a campaign to sell this to the community, but that’s gonna be a tough sell.”