Voters approve tax on future rural pot grows by 27 percentage points
Steamboat Springs — Routt County voters took another stride toward liberalizing cannabis production here Nov. 8 when they voted by a margin of 63.4 percent to 36.6 percent in favor of Referendum 1A, which will allow the Board of County Commissioners to collect taxes on marijuana that could be grown in unincorporated areas of the county in the future.
With 450 ballots yet to be counted election night, the vote total was 7,707 in favor of the excise tax and 4,450 against.
In 2012, 63 percent of Routt County voters favored a state initiative to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and retail sales of pot. The intent of 2016 referendum 1A is to put a 5-percent excise tax in place in the event they move forward and provide an approval process for rural grow operations here.
The Board of Commissioners has maintained a ban on marijuana operations into the county, but Commissioner Doug Monger said Election Night that they have watched as the broader community has embraced the marijuana industry. Recognizing that the industry is driving some costs to local government, commissioners decided to explore means to offset some of those costs, which include monitoring regulations, law enforcement and road maintenance.
“We’re going to have costs with implementing regulations on grow facilities,” Monger said. “And we’ve heard from the sheriff and undersheriff the concerns of law enforcement. I felt we needed to have the opportunity to have the business pay for itself.”
County commissioners have repeatedly said they haven’t decided to move forward with land-use regulations that would govern the terms under which people wishing to start a marijuana grow operation could apply for and obtain a permit. However, like the town of Hayden before them, they asked the voters for permission to increase taxes by $500,000 annually in the first full fiscal year through a 5-percent tax on wholesale pot grown in the rural county. Hayden voters approved a 7.5 percent excise tax.
Commissioners also made it plain that, failing passage of the excise tax, they would quickly lose interest in moving forward with grow facilities. The language of Referendum 1A commits to using the proceeds of any pot taxes collected to fund public health and safety, county facilities and expense related to public transportation, at the commissioners’ discretion.
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski pointed out Oct. 27 that she and her fellow commissioners can learn from the success the town of Oak Creek and city of Steamboat springs have had in managing and regulating the marijuana industry since 2012.
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