EAGLE — Usually the term “sign waving crowd” is a metaphor. Tuesday night in Eagle, it was a reality.
Admittedly, it was a single sign being waved, but the sentiment printed on it reflected the general atmosphere among the citizens gathered at Eagle Town Hall. Eric Rosenquist’s sign read, “Stop the nonsense,” and his statement had the support of a decidedly pro-marijuana crowd, which gathered in support of allowing retail weed operations in town.
Last week, the Eagle Town Board gathered for a special session to approve ballot language for a pair of questions proposed for the November election. One of the questions asks voters if they support retail marijuana operations in town. The other proposes a $5 per transaction fee on each retail marijuana sale. While they approved the ballot language last week to meet a submittal deadline, the town board members delayed a vote until Tuesday night to determine whether the measures will actually go on the November ballot.
During their discussion Tuesday, the town board members learned that in the wake of Amendment 64 — the Colorado measure that legalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and set the stage for the advent of retail marijuana operations statewide beginning Jan. 1 — they have four basic options regarding retail marijuana:
Approve retail marijuana as a permitted use in Eagle and include specific regulations governing such operations in the town’s land use codes.
Defer a decision regarding retail marijuana until an election regarding the issue and place a ban on operations until the vote happens.
Place a moratorium on retail marijuana until a future, specific date.
Place a ban on retail marijuana.
The audience members assembled Tuesday night were overwhelmingly in favor of the first option.
Dieneka Manzanares, one of the owners of Sweet Leaf Pioneer — Eagle’s sole medical marijuana dispensary — said the business plans to proceed with a dual license. Under the plan, the medical marijuana dispensary will continue operations and an independent retail use would open. She argued that Eagle residents have voiced support for that plan by voting in favor of the original statewide medical marijuana question, Amendment 64, and a town referendum to allow Sweet Leaf’s dispensary.
“As our leaders we feel it’s your responsibility to listen to the voters,” she said. “Putting this back to the voters only sends the message you didn’t listen in the first place.”
“Let’s get this one right and regulate tonight,” said Dave Manzanares, of the Sweet Leaf Pioneer.
“These guys are running a legitimate business. Any other business in the community would not have to go through what they have,” said resident Gladdie Funke.
“The last thing we need in this county is another business to go under,” said resident Angela Moore.
During their deliberations, town board members floated a variety of motions related to the four options outlined. Town board member Anne McGibbin proposed placing a moratorium on retail marijuana operations until Jan. 1, 2015.
“The moratorium gets us past the Jan. 1, 2014, deadlines and it gives us a little time to see what may be working or, more importantly, to see what may not be working,” she said. “I don’t want Eagle to be on the leading edge of this. It’s way too dicey.”
Town board member Scot Webster supported that plan, saying it represented a middle ground approach between the town’s pro-marijuana and anti-marijuana crowds.
“It’s hard to play by the rules, when you don’t know exactly what the rules are,” said Webster.
He also countered the argument that Eagle residents have already voiced support for retail marijuana. “Retail shops for marijuana have not been to a vote of the people.”
When it came to a vote, only McGibbin and Webster supported the moratorium proposal.
“I am not in favor of sending this back to a vote and would not support any motion to do so,” said Mayor Yuri Kostick
Election is a go
Town board member Scott Turnipseed countered with a motion to accept retail marijuana as a permitted operation in the land use code and to proceed with regulations to govern it.
“It’s our duty as public officials to listen to what the people tell us,” he said.
That motion also failed in a split vote with Turnipseed, Kostick and Mikel Kerst in favor, and McGibbin, Webster and Joe Knabel opposed. Town Board member Brandi Resa is on an extended absence.
With that action, the board members noted that the resolution passed last Thursday stands and the measure will go to a vote in November.
There will be one change for the ballot language, however.
After some public comment expressing concerns that the $5 per transaction fee was too high, the town board voted to change the language to “up to $5.” Members noted that because of regulations governing statutory towns such as Eagle, the measure cannot be presented as a simple percentage sales tax. However, Colorado law upholds statutory town’s ability to charge flat transaction fees.
By including the “up to $5” language in the ballot question, town board members noted they could include a sliding scale for the transaction fee that would feature a smaller fee applied to smaller purchase amounts.