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Retail pot measure falters as stormwater issue dominates upcoming election 

click to enlarge City Council President Richard Skorman is generally OK with green stuff. - R.W. FIRTH PHOTOGRAPHY
  • R.W. Firth Photography
  • City Council President Richard Skorman is generally OK with green stuff.
A majority of city councilors are open to the idea of letting Springs voters decide on retail pot — so the real question is not “if,” but “when” councilors will refer a question to the ballot.

Right now, Council is not on track to pose the question on the November ballot.

City Clerk Sarah Johnson explains that in order to make that ballot, her office would have to supply approved ballot language to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder by 5 p.m. on Sept. 8.
Procedurally, whether Council needs to do one or two readings of the proposed measure depends on its type: Resolutions need one; charter amendments need two.

Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods (CSN), a group of medical dispensary owners, other industry professionals and community activists, is asking for two resolutions: one to establish licensing and one to impose a special local sales tax.

For those of you keeping track here, there’s just one scheduled City Council meeting between now and that Sept. 8 deadline — the regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22. That means Council could only get through a single reading of a proposed ballot question, unless they call a rare special meeting.

At Council’s Aug. 8 meeting, plenty of people asked them to take up the issue, but the meeting was dominated by discussions about stormwater — the gist of it is, city elected officials want to ask voters to approve fees that would raise $17 million a year for drainage projects. They’re expected to refer the measure at the Aug. 22 meeting.

The stormwater discussion felt a bit frenzied at the meeting. And for good reason, since the proposal came in at the last minute. Thus, the retail pot question, which also came up late in the game, seems to have become an afterthought to preoccupied councilors.

Council President Richard Skorman is generally down with recreational marijuana, so if a majority on Council reaches consensus that they’d like to refer the retail pot question this time around, he’ll go for it. That said, he’s not convinced the time is right. “There’s just not a lot of time to put this together, and I’d really like to do the due diligence,” he says.

Skorman says Council wants to hear citizen concerns and weigh in on whether all medical marijuana dispensaries should be able to apply for a recreational license and whether to take any steps to ensure there’s not a concentration of pot shops in one part of the city.

Skorman is also worried that putting retail pot on this November’s ballot could interfere with the stormwater question, which he sees as top priority. He prefers asking voters about retail pot next year, since an off-year election cycle like this one could portend low voter turnout, whereas young people and progressives are perhaps more likely to cast ballots next year when congressional midterms and statewide races, including the governor’s race, are on the ballot. Another year would also give more time to conduct polling, allow proponents to lead a solid campaign and perhaps assuage fears about possible federal intervention in state marijuana programs.

CSN spokesperson Mike Elliott understands that stormwater is important, but sees recreational marijuana as “part of the solution” since it could drive people to the polls and provide an alternative revenue stream for the budget-strapped city in the event voters don’t approve stormwater fees. As previously reported, CSN released results of an economic study in July that they commissioned showing that licensing and taxing retail cannabis sales would put money in city coffers. (Notably, Mayor John Suthers and others find its projections overly optimistic).

Elliott says CSN intended to push for a November ballot question earlier, but was busy “getting all the pieces in place.”

But he says “there’s still time.” “If it doesn’t happen this year,” he adds, “we’ll look at 2018, but that also means the city is going to lose out on a whole lot of money that’s right now going to criminals. And they’ll be very happy to keep taking it.”

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