GWS pot taxes could reopen detox talks
Not one, but two city marijuana taxes are set to be put before Glenwood Springs voters in the April 4 municipal election.
And, although no decisions have been made about how the hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipated new tax revenues would be spent if voters approve the measures, it could reopen talks about establishing a detox center in Glenwood Springs or elsewhere in the region.
One ballot question approved by City Council at a special Thursday meeting will ask for a 5 percent tax on the retail sales side of recreational marijuana transactions, with the flexibility in future years to increase the tax to as much as 15 percent.
The other question seeks to impose a 5 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of marijuana products from manufacturing facilities to retail stores.
The tax money would generally be used to fund the enforcement of regulations on the retail marijuana industry, as well as education and public health programs associated with marijuana consumption and preventing illegal use by people under age 21.
Council forwarded the tax questions to city voters on separate 6-1 votes. Councilor Matt Steckler opposed the move, saying more discussion needs to take place ahead of time about how the money would be spent.
That discussion already began last week during a work session between City Council and representatives from the ad hoc Valley Marijuana Council, which is expected to make specific recommendations sometime next month.
The group, made up of youth workers, educators, law enforcement officials, health professionals and marijuana industry representatives, has been working in recent years to address the implications of marijuana legalization, especially on youth in the Roaring Fork Valley.
A broader concern than just marijuana use by adolescents is drug use in general, and the need for a detoxification facility in the area to serve both adults and youth.
“We’re increasingly overwhelmed with substance abuse cases,” said Dr. Ben Peery, an emergency room doctor at Valley View Hospital who sits on the Marijuana Council.
Alcohol “leads that charge,” Peery said, followed closely by methamphetamine and heroin.
“Marijuana is not necessarily the cause, but it is a player in almost all of the cases we see,” he said.
Discussions were under way last year between Valley View, the Garfield County commissioners, law enforcement agencies, Mind Springs Health and other human services providers about re-establishing a detox center in the area that could provide not only detox services, but followup rehabilitation and counseling.
Such facilities have existed in the past in Glenwood Springs, but an ongoing funding stream has been the main obstacle in maintaining them, and proved again to be the sticking point in the more recent discussions.
In the meantime, Valley View and other hospital ERs continue to shoulder the burden when people who don’t have a medical problem per se show up drunk or high and in need of detox, Peery said.
“I think we are all ready to have this conversation, but we need a more complete package,” he said.
The Glenwood Springs marijuana taxes, if approved by voters, would not be enough to cover the costs alone. But if the city could partner with other jurisdictions that also impose local taxes on marijuana, it’s a good start, those participating in the work session said.
Other area towns and cities that have such a tax on either retail or wholesale activity, or both, include Basalt, Carbondale, Silt, Rifle and Parachute. Most charge 5 percent.
“I am a little uncomfortable with the idea of being able to raise it up to 15 percent,” Glenwood City Council member Leo McKinney said during the Thursday night meeting. “I think that would be fairly detrimental to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The proposed ballot question gives the city the flexibility to increase the retail tax above 5 percent, but not to exceed 15 percent.
Dan Sullivan, who owns the Green Joint recreational and Green Medicine Wellness medical marijuana dispensaries in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute, and who sits on the Marijuana Council, said he supports the local taxes, to a point.
“I would encourage you to stay away from medical marijuana, and focus on recreational,” he said during the work session meeting. “It’s something that’s fair and equitable from a business standpoint.”
Sullivan cautioned, however, about adding too much tax on top of the already hefty statewide marijuana sales tax of 10 percent, which comes on top of regular state and local sales taxes.
“If you overtax it, you maybe encourage the black market, and we have to be cognizant of that,” he said.
The Glenwood council will consider the tax ballot questions on second reading at its Feb. 2 meeting. Pro and con statements to be sent to voters are due to the Glenwood Springs City Clerk’s office by Feb. 17.
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