Colorado's marijuana laws allow communities to decide whether or not to allow recreational sales. Votes on the topic have taken place in more than a dozen municipalities over the past couple of weeks, with a hefty percentage turning thumbs-down.
These results don't frustrate one prominent marijuana advocate charged with following them. She prefers focusing on the successes rather than the failures and thinks some cities and counties that have rejected pot sales will reverse course over time. But not all of them.
For Shawn Hauser, an attorney with the firm of Vicente Sederberg and local director for Sensible Colorado Action, tracking each vote is a challenge given that lots of the communities are small, with only a relative handful of people casting ballots. Note that this week, the vote nixing recreational pot sales in Larkspur was reportedly 73-26 -- meaning that fewer than 100 people took part.
"Palmer Lake said no," Hauser says as she shuffles through the data. "Fruita said no; they've historically voted no on marijuana in general. And Colbran supported a ban, but it was a kind of non-binding advisory question."
Not that there were rejections all around. "Debeque in Mesa County voted yes," Hauser points out, "and that's a big deal, because they're one of the only ones in the area to vote yes: It was 69 to 65. Red Cliff voted for it, and so did Log Lane Village, which is tiny; it's near Fort Morgan, in Morgan County. I'm told Silverton is going to be moving forward; there was a vote to repeal the initiative that permitted usage, but it failed. And Fort Collins officially opted in a few weeks ago. That was a big deal."
Other sale locations are pending. Hauser points out that "the moratoriums in Durango and La Plata are going to end in the summer, and they're going to be coming online for recreational in the summer, mostly starting with their existing businesses."
That's a very mixed bag. But Hauser sees progress.
"There are a lot of small towns that are welcoming recreational sales," she allows. "They see a legitimate need for it and want to honor the will of the voters and participate in the responsible regulatory system in Colorado. And there are a lot of places that wanted to wait and see how it worked in Denver and other places before moving forward -- mostly places that already had medical. They're simply allowing the existing businesses to start recreational sales."
There are exceptions to that rule, Hauser admits, including Colorado Springs and Englewood -- "but there's also Aurora, which is going to be coming on line this summer even though they didn't have medical before. So they're unique in that regard."
Colorado Springs said yes to medical marijuana but no to recreational sales.
As for the cities and towns that voted no, Hauser doesn't necessarily see the results as the final word on the subject -- particularly in Colorado Springs. "Voters there supported legalization, and they had compliant medical businesses. But there was a big public debate about whether to opt in or opt out of recreational sales, and they opted out. We'll see how that progresses in the next few years."
One strategy to get larger communities that have outlawed recreational sales to allow them down the line involves pushing ballot measures during major, even-year November elections, when the participation of younger voters is higher. Votes in April or other atypical election months tend to be dominated by elderly voters who may be less open to the idea of marijuana sales in general than less wizened residents.
Momentum may well play a part, too. By Hauser's count, "there are approximately 77 jurisdictions, including cities and counties that currently have a ban. But there are about sixty that are officially in, and another forty-ish with moratoriums." If all or most of the latter eventually allow recreational marijuana sales, the balance could tip from no to yes.
But even an optimist like Hauser doesn't think every community in Colorado will eventually capitulate.
"Some places are just historically against it, or they're near somewhere else that allows it and they don't see the need to have it in their town," she acknowledges. "And there are places where, either because of size or other reasons, it just may not happen: Mt. Crested Butte, for example. But I think there are others were the door's open and the issue is evolving."
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More from our Marijuana archive circa July 2013: "Photos: The eleven Colorado cities expected to allow recreational marijuana sales."