Marijuana retail bans: Could they lead to November tax ballot issue defeat?

Back in May, marijuana attorney Brian Vicente, who co-authored Colorado's Amendment 64, expressed supreme confidence that state voters would approve taxes on recreational pot sales in the 30 percent range this November. But a lot has changed since then, including dozens of recreational cannabis-sales bans in communities such as Colorado Springs.

While some observers feel these developments could endanger the tax measure, Vicente disagrees.

Earlier this year, lawmakers were so afraid Colorado voters wouldn't approve A64 taxes that they almost voted to repeal much of it due to fears about being saddled with an expensive regulatory system and no way to pay for it. Vicente, though, dismissed such concerns at the time.

"I think this has been a straw-man argument from the beginning," he told us after the repeal effort failed. "There is almost no voter out there who's going to vote against these marijuana taxes. We are going to win this in a landslide."

What made him so certain? For one thing, a poll commissioned by Amendment 64 proponents showed that support for taxes in the range approved by the legislature was strong, with 77 percent of those surveyed saying they would vote in favor of them.

"Polling shows that almost 80 percent of the public is going to vote 'yes' on this," Vicente stressed. "And we're going to be supporting these taxes in the same way the Governor says he's going to -- and we expect law-enforcement agencies and others who want to see this model be regulated to support them, too."

Since then, according to one report, 56 communities have banned recreational pot sales, while only eleven are leaning toward allowing it.

This disparity raises the question of turnout for the November election -- an issue that has proven key when it comes to marijuana measures. Example: California's Proposition 19 failed in 2010, a non-presidential election, while A64 passed in 2012, a presidential year during which more young voters tend to show up at the polls.

With that in mind, the scenario for the tax measure failing in November goes something like this: The sort of voters likely to approve of such taxes may not go to the polls during an off-year election if their communities have banned recreational sales, leaving older, more conservative folks apt to oppose progressive pot policies to win the day.

Vicente's response?

"I think most folks even in areas that are not choosing to move forward with marijuana stores right away are still supportive of taxing consumers who use this product," he says. "They understand we need a regulatory structure overseeing these businesses even if they won't immediately be in their community."

His mention of terms like "right away" and "immediately" isn't coincidental. He believes the estimate of eleven communities allowing recreational sales is low.

"By the end of the year, I think we'll be closer to fifteen or twenty municipalities that will move forward," he predicts. "Aurora, for instance, is looking at accepting applications for retail shops in the middle of next year. A smaller handful will move forward January 1 -- maybe ten or a dozen. But there are some other major communities looking at moving forward shortly thereafter."

He equates the pace to the progress of the medical marijuana industry. "At first, when it was a new policy, certain communities were maybe a little more forward-thinking in choosing to move ahead quickly. But over time, we predict that once these stores are up and running, generating tax revenues and jobs, the surrounding communities will want to get on board as well.

"Look at Denver and Aurora," he continues. "Denver has had a fairly successful medical marijuana regulatory structure in place, with hundreds of stores and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. I think Aurora voters looked at that, and by a vote of 56 percent, they said, 'We want it in our community, too.' And thankfully, the city council there looked at it and said, 'We'll try to get rules up and running next year.'"

By which time he feels certain Colorado voters will have given their go-ahead to taxation and regulation.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: 30 percent pot tax is reasonable and voters will pass it, activist says."

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