Petition: Let Parachute voters decide pot sales
Keeping good on earlier promises, opponents of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in Parachute started the process Monday to put the issue before voters in the fall of 2016 — the earliest date possible under the law.
The effort, largely led by resident Pam Jarrett and a group of like-minded townspeople, is in response to a 4-2 decision by town trustees in June to repeal a ban on recreational marijuana businesses.
When Jarrett submitted both the affidavit for a petition committee and the petition language Monday, the town had already received its first two applications for licenses.
Approximately 40 people packed town hall for the trustees meeting in July. Many in the audience — which several trustees noted was much larger than the typical crowd at meetings — said they were unaware the issue was being considered in June, and asked trustees to consider putting the issue to a vote of the town’s residents.
While several trustees reaffirmed the rationale behind their vote in June, none of the board members expressed a desire to put the issue to a vote.
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That inaction, despite the desires of 107 self-identified registered voters who signed an informal petition requesting the issue be put to a vote, demonstrated the need for a citizen-initiated effort, Jarrett said. While she personally opposes allowing the marijuana industry in Parachute, the idea behind the petition movement is not to push people in one direction or another, according to Jarrett. It is simply to allow the people to vote on it.
“They want a chance to vote,” she said, adding that it has been difficult obtaining information on the process for submitting the necessary paperwork from the town.
Town Manager Stuart McArthur gave his reassurance that the town is not trying to put up “roadblocks” or stymie Jarrett’s efforts. The town is simply following the statutory process, he said. The town’s charter requires signatures from at least 5 percent of voters registered as of the day the affidavit is filed.
If enough petition signatures are gathered, the town could find itself in the unique position of voting to ban an industry with legally licensed businesses already operating.
Under Amendment 64 — the statewide initiative legalizing marijuana that was approved by 55 percent of 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.
If Jarrett and others are successful in their efforts, voters will not be able to weigh in until November 2016.
Since the repeal of the ban came into effect July 18, the town has received an application for a recreational retail store and a cultivation facility. Both applications came from Green Cross Colorado LLC.
Reached by phone Monday, Green Cross CEO Mark Smith declined to comment on the most recent developments, other than to say the residents certainly have the right to exercise their legal options.
McArthur said several other potential businesses have inquired about locating in the town, but have not sent applications.
The uncertainty brought on by the petition effort could “scare off” some businesses looking to locate in the town, said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, an organization that, according to its website, works to “protect and promote all regulatory framework within the marijuana industry in Colorado.”
While some may hesitate, opinions in the town could change once a few businesses start operating, Elliott said.
Based on the response of residents, Jarrett said she does not see the petition effort losing steam.
“I’m not concerned at all because people want to vote on this,” she said.
Either way, if both the license applications and the petition effort are successful, Parachute could find itself in uncharted waters.
Elliott said he was unaware of any county or municipality in the state that prohibited the recreational marijuana industry after businesses were already operating.
The closest instance Elliot was aware of was Fort Collins, where voters banned medical marijuana businesses in 2011, only to repeal the ban in 2012 — the same year Amendment 64 passed statewide. The repeal efforts were largely backed by existing marijuana businesses forced to close after the 2011 ban.
With little to no precedent regarding the recreational marijuana industry, it’s hard to say what recourse, if any, those businesses would have if Parachute voters elect to ban the industry, Elliott said.
Businesses thinking about locating in Parachute prior to a possible vote in 2016 will have to make that decision for themselves, Jarrett said.
“That is up to the business owners. If they want to take the chance of coming in for a while it’s up to them,” she said. “It’s their business. But if there are application hearings we will be there.”
The town is moving forward with review of the two applications submitted under the guidelines of the ordinance passed in June, McArthur said. Per the ordinance, the town has 35 days to conduct an initial review of the application, although that review period can be extended if needed. If and when the application is ruled complete, it will head before the trustees for a public hearing.
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