Steamboat City Council abandons pot tax plan after concerns about medical use
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council rejected a resolution that would have placed a 5 percent tax on all marijuana sales in the city before voters.
Council rejected the measure 5 to 2, with council members Sonja Macys and Kathi Meyer voting in favor of it.
The 5 percent tax was expected to generate up to $720,000 for the city’s community support budget and city youth programs in 2019. It would have sunseted after 10 years if not renewed. In creating a dedicated funding source for community support, council hoped to maintain funding for those services and free up the money the city currently spends on community support and youth programs for other uses.
Council member Lisel Petis opened council’s discussion of the tax, expressing concerns that the proposed tax would include medical marijuana.
“I’ll have to be honest, I guess I just didn’t really think through it the first time we talked about it, and I feel bad that I’m bringing this so late in the game, but I guess that’s really kind of a hiccup for me as well — taxing a medical drug like that,” Petis said.
Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies, a medical and recreational dispensary in Steamboat, agreed with Petis.
“Medical users certainly do not deserve to bear any additional taxation on their medicine,” he said. “The fact that there’s any taxation on medical marijuana is questionable in my mind.”
The motion, which council ultimately voted on, excluded medical marijuana.
For other adult recreational users, Fisher said there is already a significant tax burden placed on them. He said studies show their use of cannabis, as opposed to alcohol, produces a net benefit on public health and safety.
“I’m not exactly sure why we consider asking them to bear any additional funding requests, even if they are supported by a clear, evidenced need within the community,” he said. “There are plenty of other resources for us to consider when we’re looking for additional revenue.”
In the meeting, Petis continued to say she expected to see a lower rate of taxation in the measure — a 2, 3 or 4 percent tax. During their last meeting, council members expressed interest in also exploring a tobacco tax, which was not included in the resolution.
“I am still having some reservations on just marijuana,” Petis said. “It seems like we’re really targeting an industry when alcohol and opioids are really a bigger reason that a lot of these human services nonprofits exist.”
Council member Heather Sloop agreed.
Only one Colorado municipality, Denver, taxes alcohol, Meyer said.
“I don’t know that we want to pioneer that,” she said.
Meyer supported the tax because she said it would protect community support funding in the city’s budget in case of an economic downturn.
“We need to look at diversifying revenue. Is this the right answer? I don’t know,” said Council President Jason Lacy. “I guess I would’ve thought that when we brought this up, I would’ve expected that maybe the community support groups would’ve been a little more excited. When I’m looking around the room, I’m not seeing a lot of champions in the room.”
About 15 people were in council chambers, and many of them were staring down at electronics in their laps. Ken Davis, executive director of Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, spoke during public comment, and he was opposed to the measure.
Lacy said implementing a successful tax takes boots on the ground, a well-organized campaign and people ready to go to work.
“I’m just not seeing that here today. I think if we throw this on, it would probably lose,” he said, adding that a defeated tax measure could taint future efforts for a better revenue measure.
Council member Robin Crossan said she supported the tax, but that it was a “band-aid.” She thinks the real solution to the city’s concerns about fiscal sustainability is a property tax.
“I think if we do too many little things, then we’re not going to be able to do the big thing that I think most everybody, or many people, in this community now understand is the thing to do, and it either gets voted up or voted down, but we have to move toward a property tax,” she said. “We have to figure out how to do that in this community, with community support.”
Macys said she would have liked for voters to have the opportunity to decide if they wanted to fund community support in this way.
“There’s nothing easier, as an elected official than walking away from a tax,” Macys said in the meeting. “There’s really nothing easier to do than say. ‘Oh, it’s not well thought out. Oh, it’s not addressing the problems. It’s a feed the beast. Whatever.’ I mean that’s the easiest choice that we can make this evening. … If it’s not a well thought-out proposal, people will vote it down.”
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