| CraigDailyPress.com

Recreational marijuana initiative fails; two seats still open on Craig City Council

CRAIG — A recreational marijuana initiative in Craig failed to garner the signatures needed to place the question before voters, Craig's city clerk confirmed Thursday, Jan. 17.

According to Craig City Clerk Liz White, the Committee to Grow Craig handed in about 850 signatures of the 739 needed to place the measure on the ballot, but White was able to verify only 585 of the signatures.

Accordingly, she said, 266 signatures were invalid, mostly due to signatures being ineligible, names not able to be found in the city's database, or residents including addresses on the petition not found in the city's records.

"I had to check every one — one by one," White said Thursday.

A similar city ballot initiative failed in 2016, as did a countywide initiative in 2014.

The ordinance connected to the ballot initiative would have provided for no more than three retail marijuana dispensaries inside Craig to have one cultivation license. Each establishment would have been allowed to have no more than two cultivation licenses per person without a locally held license for a recreational dispensary. The ordinance would also have capped the number of cannabis manufacturing licenses to four per person. Cannabis manufacturing licenses cover the production of edibles, tinctures, concentrates, or topical lotions.

At a Committee to Grow Craig meeting Jan. 4, Mayor John Ponikvar said he wanted to explore the possibility of developing Craig's marijuana cultivation similar to the nearby city of Hayden, without the need for full recreational legalization. Due to other city's in the area that have already legalized recreational marijuana, Ponikvar said recreational legalization may not be the huge boost to tax revenue some think it would be.

"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.”

Paul James, an employee of the Craig Apothecary who helped spearhead the ballot initiative, said the ordinance sought to give locals an opportunity to own any new licenses or marijuana businesses before outside interests could.

In a Facebook post, James said White called him Thursday to break the news his ballot initiative had failed.

"I am more than willing to continue on, to take more steps to get this through, and there are still options that can be taken to do this again," James said in his Facebook post. "It is a possibility for us to immediately turn around and run another petition, but doing so would not put us on a regular election ballot. Rather, should we be successful, it would put the measure on it’s own ballot in a special election."

James also addressed Craig residents who don't want recreational marijuana legalized inside the city.

"I’m sure to a few of you, this failure is very exciting, but the rest of us are disappointed that our work and efforts fell short and that we’re once again stuck with the status quo here in Craig," James wrote Thursday in his Facebook post. "I’ll end this post with a very slim silver lining; my petition to add my name to the ballot for city council was all good, so I will be running for a seat in April.”

White confirmed James and Mayor John Ponikvar are the only two candidates who've officially handed in their petitions for the upcoming municipal election.

That leaves at least two other council seats open for any resident of Craig who is willing to serve.

White said the deadline to file for city council is on or before the end of business Monday, Jan. 21

If no one else files for council by Tuesday, Craig City Attorney Sherman Romney said whoever is elected to the mayor’s office and council in the municipal general election will be tasked with appointing Craig residents to any open seats within 60 days.

"We've never had that issue before," Romney said Thursday.

The municipal general election is set for April 2.