By Lucas Vader

Staff Report

At a specially scheduled work session on June 25, the Cedaredge Board of Trustees began an extensive discussion on retail marijuana and what it could mean for the Town of Cedaredge. The pros to the prospect evolved first and foremost around revenue for the town.

Automatically, sales tax for cannabis products is 2%, with an additional excise tax. Additionally, the Town of Cedaredge would have the ability to charge up to a $5,000 licensing fee for retailers, though this is a detail that would be discussed at a later date.

To start, Town Administrator Greg Brinck went over statistics related to marijuana and related crime and demographics, which included details concerning incidents of juveniles younger than 18 years old possessing marijuana. Those stats have remained about the same across the state since it was legalized in Colorado.

The discussion was specifically not intended to lead to a board executive decision on whether to allow marijuana retail in Cedaredge, but instead to approve the measure to appear on the November election ballot. At that point, the people of Cedaredge would decide with a majority vote.

Cedaredge Police Chief Joseph Roberts was in attendance. He advised the council and answered questions from a law enforcement perspective. One thing he brought up was the difficulty in identifying DUIs with marijuana usage, particularly because there is no legalized roadside test for intoxication via cannabis.

He also reminded the board that Brinck’s statistic presentation would include a certain amount of black market marijuana and that some of the stats might appear inconsistent because marijuana incidents weren’t documented separately from other drugs before it was legalized.

Theoretically, a potential benefit of licensed and regulated marijuana retail in the area could provide competition against the black market, Brinck said, though the black market is difficult competition as it is generally less expensive.

“It is a very regulated and tracked industry,” Brinck said.

At this time, the board is mostly in favor of approving the ballot measure, with the main exception of Trustee Cathy Brown, who has frequently spoken up against the notion of marijuana in town.

Since the board was mostly in favor of creating the ballot issue, it discussed forming an advocacy group to promote the monetary benefits of local retail of marijuana. Brown defended herself against the board’s group mentality on this issue.

“You can’t include me in ‘we’ because I’m totally against it,” Brown said.

In regard to Brown’s statement, Hanson explained the vote for the ballot measure is not meant to reflect her own opinion on the overall matter, but instead to allow ballot measure to go out and therefore allow the people of Cedaredge to decide in November.

“It’s still to the voters,” Hanson told Brown. “And I want to warn you, one way or another, you can have your opinion there, but if there’s a group that comes out that wants to go for it, fine. If we don’t have that group, we probably won’t sell it.”

As discussions of an advocacy group for the measure persisted. Brown questioned the possibility of forming an advocacy group against it, which was also shut down due to the fact that it would go against the intention of the board if it moves forward with the measure.

“You don’t initiate a tax initiative wanting it to fail,” Hanson said.

An advocacy group would come into the picture in order to follow the Fair Campaign Act, which would prohibit trustees from discussing the ballot measure after the language is certified, which must happen by Sept. 4. Hanson remained confident throughout the meeting that the measure would likely fail if they didn’t form an advocacy group to educate the public. He encouraged the trustees to find people who would be interested in advocating for the measure before it was too late.

Trustee Charles Howe stated he was indecisive on his own opinion of marijuana in Cedaredge but he agreed the choice needed to go to the community.

The most recent similar situation, as Hanson pointed out to the board, was the Golf Course General Improvement District measure in the April elections. Though only one trustee on the entire board lived near the golf course and would be affected by the measure, the board still voted unanimously in favor of the measure so it could be decided by the residents who lived in the affected area. When the people voted, it ultimately failed.

Details of the ballot measure will not be an all or nothing choice when it comes time for the board to approve the ballot language. A few options come into play.

The board must decide on whether to approve language allowing both medical and recreational marijuana, or one or the other. The issue from the town’s perspective on that front is that medical marijuana does not create revenue for the town.

The board must decide which processes and aspects of the marijuana industries it wants to allow, among four stages; sales, cultivation, manufacturing and testing.

The sales portion is as it sounds. It allows retailers to open up shop and sell their product in town. Approval of cultivation would allow them to grow it themselves within the Town of Cedaredge. Allowing manufacturing would include processing it into its various products of edibles, creams and so forth.

Finally, an allowance for testing would allow retailers to perform all analysis on their product in-house, from finding the amount of THC and CBD to screening it for pesticides and other issues. Otherwise, the product would have to be tested elsewhere before sale.

As for deciding which aspects of the ballot measure to include, Trustee Richard Udd mentioned gathering input from the community.

“That’s probably going to be a difficult thing to decide,” Udd said. “So we need to be asking our constituents how they feel about that and sort that out.”

One thing that is certain at this point, according to Brinck, is the measure would be best approved as a binding election, meaning that, if the measure passed, it would automatically go into effect after that. The alternate option would be an advisory committee, which would be more of a survey from the community which would tell the board which way to take it.

As with the Golf Course General Improvement District measure, the measure will likely be approved for voting in the November elections, as the board had no reasons to deprive the community of voting on it, as Hanson indicated more than once.

The statistics that Brinck presented at the beginning went beyond marijuana use among minors. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) by the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) showed that reported youth marijuana rates for the 2015-2016 school year were the lowest they’d been since the 2007-2008 school year, at 9.1%.

The percentage of high school students reporting to have used marijuana ever in their lifetimes was consistent from 2005-2017, and stats also show that the number of students trying marijuana before the age of 13 decreased from 9.2% in 2015 to 6.5% in 2017.

As far as illegal substances for youth goes, alcohol remains in the number one slot, vaping remains number two, with marijuana following in third.

Colorado State Patrol (CSP) reported a consistent percentage of citations for marijuana-related impairment. Overall citations regarding marijuana went up from 12% in 2012 to 17% in 2016 before dropping back down to 15% in 2017.

A more negative statistic from CSP reported that the number of fatalities where the driver tested positive for any cannabinoid increased from 11% of all fatalities in 2013 to 21% of all fatalities in 2017.

Overall felony filings for marijuana were lower in 2017 (907) than they were in 2008 (1,431).

With the amount of information and detail that goes into the economics and prospect of allowing marijuana into a town where it is not currently condoned, the board of trustees scheduled another special work session for July 9 at 5 p.m. to further discuss the matter before ultimately putting it to a vote at a regular meeting prior to July 24, which is the deadline to declare the election.

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