Eagle could take retail marijuana issue to voters
EAGLE — Thursday night members of the Eagle Town Board approved a pair of retail marijuana ballot questions for the November election.
But it remains to be seen if the voters will actually see them.
Facing a Friday deadline to submit ballot question language to Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton for inclusion on the November ballot, the town board held a special meeting Thursday night to discuss a pair of resolutions that included formal ballot language. One of the resolutions seeks voter approval of a $5 per transaction occupation tax on marijuana sales. The other asks if voters support “the establishment and operation of retail marijuana cultivation facilities, retail marijuana product manufacturing facilities and retail marijuana stores” in the town of Eagle.
While both resolutions passed, the town board members noted the final decision about whether or not the ballot questions will be included in the November election will come during discussion of the issue at their next regular meeting scheduled Tuesday.
“There has been a lot of discussion among town board members about the retail marijuana question and an agenda item is planned next week to bring clarity to the issue,” Eagle Town Manager Jon Stavney said.
“If we don’t have ballot language to Teak tomorrow, we can’t have anything on the ballot,” said Eagle Town Clerk Sarah Braucht during Thursday’s special meeting.
The idea of taking a retail marijuana question to the voters generated a mixed reaction from the five board members present for the special session. Trustees Brandi Resa (who is on a pre-announced, two-month absence) and Mikel Kerst were absent.
“I really don’t understand why you are taking it back to the people again. They already voted on it,” said Dieneka Manzanares, of Sweet Leaf Pioneer, Eagle’s existing medical marijuana dispensary.
Two years ago, Eagle voters supported the continued operation of the dispensary in a municipal election. Additionally, a majority of Eagle voters were in favor of Colorado Amendment 64, which passed last November and allows the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana as well as retail marijuana sales. The Sweet Leaf Pioneer has announced its intention to switch to a retail operation, as allowed under Amendment 64 rules. Those new state rules governing recreational marijuana use allow for retail operations as of Jan. 1.
Town Board member Scott Turnipseed noted that because there is support among town board members to take the $5 per transaction occupation tax to the voters, it wouldn’t cost extra to simply ask voters if they support retail marijuana in the community. But the town board wasn’t united on the desirability of such a ballot question.
Member Scot Webster suggested the question about retail marijuana also include a yearlong moratorium on retail stores opening. He said the reasoning for a moratorium would be to make sure other jurisdictions hammer out the retail marijuana issues.
“We want to make sure that Eagle isn’t the test case,” said Webster.
Other town board members noted that a moratorium might be advisable, but that was a separate issue and it should not be included in a ballot question. They said that question could be debated during the Tuesday discussion.
The only public comment during Thursday’s session came from former town board member Stephen Richards. He questioned the $5 per transaction fee. “I think the board would be better served to ask for a little less than that,” he said.
Richards argued that the idea of tacking a $5 fee on every transaction could doom the ballot question.
“Two or three dollars would be a more reasonable amount,” he said.
“I wish it could be a percentage, but that’s not legal,” Turnipseed said.
Because Eagle is a statutory, not a home rule, town there are limitations in place regarding percentage sales tax charges. However, the legality of a flat transaction occupation tax has been upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the town’s (then) $2 per room, per night lodging occupation tax.
“I feel that $5 is OK,” said Turnipseed. “Ultimately, one of the reasons that people are supportive of recreational marijuana is that it’s going to generate some additional sales tax revenue for the town.”
The board passed the retail ballot question resolution 3-2 with Webster and Mayor Yuri Kostick opposed. The $5 per transaction ballot question passed unanimously.
Now all that remains is to determine Tuesday if those questions will actually go to the voters.
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