Parachute voters to decide pot question |

Parachute voters to decide pot question

Ryan Hoffman

About 16 months after trustees decided to allow recreational marijuana businesses in Parachute, voters will decide if the town should prohibit the industry that has taken root.

The ballot question, which asks if the town should prohibit the licensing and operation of retail marijuana businesses, could represent the conclusion of what was at one point in time a contentious issue that drew large crowds to local meetings and sparked a failed recall vote of the mayor and several trustees in April.

For Roy McClung, Parachute’s mayor who handily overcame-the recall, the marijuana industry has done exactly what the trustees had hoped it would. It was never intended to be a grand solution to the economic woes of the energy industry dependent town, he said. Rather, it was seen as an immediate and critical influx of money amid a drastic drop in sales tax revenue. So far it has provided the desired outcome, and the societal woes cited by opponents of legalized marijuana have not materialized.

“I think a lot of people kind of took a wait-and-see approach and what they’re seeing is that the revenues … of the town have managed to increase, which is the first time we’ve seen that since 2014,” McClung said.

“And with that we have not seen any of the big ills,” such as large spikes in crime.

For Parachute resident Pam Jarrett, the vote has been a long time coming.

“I have just been encouraging people to vote on the matter, to vote whichever way they are inclined to vote,” she said. “That has been the important thing — let the people vote.”

Jarrett, who opposes allowing marijuana businesses in town, was part of a small group that mobilized after the town board’s decision in June 2015. She conducted an impromptu survey asking 122 self-identified registered voters if they wanted to vote on the marijuana issue. Of those surveyed, 107 said they wanted to vote, The Citizen Telegram previously reported.

Trustees countered calls for a vote by pointing to the town’s plummeting revenues and the need to take action before reaching a financial emergency.

“We had to do something to keep the town’s coffers flush and this was the only thing that was available to us,” McClung recalled.

Jarrett’s survey is what led her and several others to initiate a petition to put the question on the ballot. While they successfully gained the necessary number of signatures last fall, a provision in the state constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana required the question to appear on the general election ballot of an even-number year, delaying the vote until this fall.

In the months after the boards’ decision, marijuana licenses were approved, businesses started opening and marijuana remained a contentious topic.

Jarrett, citing a failure by members of the board to listen and respond to residents’ concerns, helped lead an effort to put recall questions on the April ballot for McClung and Trustees Tim Olk and Tom Rugaard. She also ran for one of the four seats up for election then.

All the recall efforts failed and Jarrett finished in a distant fifth place. Since the April vote, attendance at the monthly trustee meetings has been sparse. Aside from regular reports from the town manager and comments from trustees, marijuana has been largely a non issue during the meetings.

Still, Jarrett said the issue has always been about giving people the chance to vote, and they will get that chance.

“The day after the election, whichever way it comes out, I will have felt like we had a voice because people voted.”

She would not speculate on the possible outcome of the election. McClung pointed to the recall effort and the overwhelming passage of a marijuana excise tax in November 2015 as a possible indication of the electorate’s attitude regarding marijuana businesses in the town.

“You never really know for sure until you actually have the vote, but I think given the past two elections that have had marijuana issues on the ballot and their overwhelming support, I don’t see things being much different.”

If voters vote “yes” on the question and approve the marijuana ban, it could leave the town in an unprecedented position of banning an existing industry. McClung said his understanding is already licensed businesses would continue operating as is, and no new licenses would be issued. Once an existing business closes or is sold, the local licenses would become invalid and the business would have to close.

If that happens, McClung said he worries it would cast “a dark cloud” over Parachute for years to come.

“It could cast a pall over the whole business community in town,” he said. “I’m really hoping to avoid that.”

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