Parachute voters to decide on pot excise tax
PARACHUTE — Voters will weigh in on the marijuana issue this fall, though not in the manner that opponents to the town’s recent approval of recreational businesses had hoped.
Town trustees voted unanimously Thursday to put a 5 percent excise tax on unprocessed marijuana before voters this November.
The vote was made before an audience of roughly 24 people; four of whom voiced their opposition to trustees’ decision lifting a previous ban on recreational facilities in June. The speakers repeated requests that the trustees repeal their decision and allow voters to decide on whether the town allows recreational marijuana.
Earlier that day, the citizen-initiated committee, aptly named Let the People Vote, filed a petition that would do just that, along with 62 signatures — nearly three times the number required to put an issue on the ballot.
However, under Amendment 64 — the statewide initiative legalizing marijuana approved by voters in 2012 — any initiated or referred measure prohibiting the operation of marijuana facilities must appear on a general election ballot in an even-numbered year.
In this case, the citizen initiative will not appear before voters until the 2016 general election. Speaking before trustees Thursday, Parachute resident Pam Jarrett said putting an excise tax on the ballot before residents could vote on the larger marijuana issue was “out of order.”
“Town people, please think from the testimony given by fellow citizens if the town board is really representing the people if they deny us the chance to vote (on retail operations) soon,” she said.
Trustees did not respond to Jarrett’s comments and ultimately approved the excise tax. During discussions on the issue over the past four months, trustees have repeatedly pointed to plummeting sales tax revenue due to the declining energy sector and the need to do something immediate to spark revenue growth.
In a report to the board Thursday, Town Manager Stuart McArthur commented that sales tax revenues for the first seven months of 2015 were down nearly 21 percent from 2014.
While town officials have referred to marijuana businesses as an opportunity for an immediate infusion of revenue, the industry took on an increased sense of economic importance Thursday.
Since repealing the ban, McArthur said he has been contacted by various different businesses; including a moving company store, donut shop, two restaurants, a museum, a laundromat, a coffee shop, a funeral home, a fitness center and other larger developers.
McArthur would not specifically name any of the companies, saying those discussions are still in the early stages and it would be unfair to give names.
So far the town has received three applications for retail licenses, as well as an application for a grow facility that is incomplete at the moment. McArthur said he expects to receive another retail application sometime in the near future.
While he told trustees that the sudden interest was “a direct result of the news that the town is going to allow the marijuana industry,” McArthur said after the meeting that there has been a slow erosion of the perception of the town as unfriendly toward businesses.
“I think it’s a combination of the two,” he said. “The town of Parachute is open for business and people are starting to realize that, but also these people want to see the foot traffic.”
In general, there has been a spike in interest from retailers in western Garfield County over the past four weeks, said Mel Kent, manager of the Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp.
He would not speculate on the reason behind the sudden interest, but said it stretches from Parachute to Silt. As for the marijuana industry specifically, Kent said the RREDC does not have an official position, but added increased foot traffic in the town is key to spurring further economic growth.
Even if the claims of interest from businesses are true, the people should still have the right to vote, Jarrett said.
“If the people want it here, I’ll accept it here, but they should have the right to decide,” she added.
Jarrett was not the only one who spoke Thursday in opposition to the trustees’ decision.
Citing several studies, Kevin Coleman, chief of medical staff at Grand River Health West in Parachute and president of the Garfield County School District 16 board, said the decision could have negative implications for the community — particularly school-age children.
While he said he had no doubt that the trustees had the best intentions in mind, he said they were wrong.
McArthur said if anyone presented an alternative to help ease the town’s financial woes he would be more than open to it, but so far no one has come forward with a proposal.
“There is nothing else,” he said offering an explanation.
The town expects to conduct public hearings for several of the license applications in September. Information on those hearings will be posted on the town’s website when it is available, McArthur said.
Pot sales are up in Eagle County and statewide, but cannabis is still a small piece of the local and state budget pictures.