While All Colorado Voters Will Consider Prop 119, Six Towns Could Legalize Pot Sales

Five different Colorado towns could approve retail marijuana sales in the 2021 election, while two more are considering local sales tax increases at dispensaries.
Five different Colorado towns could approve retail marijuana sales in the 2021 election, while two more are considering local sales tax increases at dispensaries. Westword
At least one marijuana question will appear on every ballot in Colorado this election season, while voters in some municipalities, including several in the Denver area, will consider two or three.

On top of a statewide proposition involving increased marijuana taxes to support out-of-school learning, eight Colorado cities will weigh local marijuana measures in the 2021 election. Pot sales tax increases are on the table in Denver and Lakewood, and six other towns — including Golden, Westminster and Brighton —will consider ending retail marijuana embargoes.

Here's a rundown of marijuana-related ballot questions, statewide and local, in the November 2021 election:

The proposed State Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Initiative (LEAP) program would create annual stipends that cover such out-of-school learning services as after-school programs, individual tutoring and specialized after-school classes. Families earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year would be prioritized for the $1,500 yearly stipends, according to Vote Yes on 119, the organization behind LEAP. Institutions like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA would qualify for stipend payments, as would private tutors and learning providers.

A 5 percent recreational marijuana sales tax increase and the repurposing of a portion of investment revenue derived from leases, rents and royalties paid for state-owned lands would fund the program.  Colorado currently imposes a 15 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales, with local governments adding their own marijuana sales and industry taxes on top of that. If approved, the ballot initiative would raise the overall marijuana sales tax in Denver from 26.41 percent to 31.41 percent

The marijuana industry opposes the proposal, and the state’s educational community is split.

The Colorado Education Association withdrew support for Proposition 119 in June, adopting a neutral stance after questioning how accessible LEAP stipends would be for rural and low-income students, and publicly noting that it preferred that new forms of funding go toward the state’s education gap. Providers of free out-of-school programming are also concerned about the proposed funding allocation, as only for-cost services would be eligible for LEAP, according to Vote Yes on 119.

A host of notable politicians back the initiative, including former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter and former mayors Federico Peña and Wellington Webb, as well as such influential organizations as Mile High Early Learning, Servicios de la Raza and Gary Community Ventures, a nonprofit that has spent nearly $1 million pushing the proposal.

Initiative 300: Pandemic Research Fund would raise the city’s recreational marijuana sales by 1.5 percent to fund pandemic research and public-response plans during pandemics. According to proponents of the measure, around $7 million would be raised annually by the tax increase, all of it going toward the University of Colorado Denver CityCenter — a partnership of CU Denver, the City of Denver and local businesses — for research.

More than $540,000 has been spent on the initiative’s campaign by Guarding Against Pandemics, a group registered in Delaware, but the campaign recently gained a powerful opponent in Mayor Michael Hancock, who told voters to reject the initiative in a public announcement on his Facebook page.

"While we continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19, adding a cost burden to just Denver voters seems unfair. Let’s rely on our national research institutions to do this work and share the responsibility more broadly than just Denver taxpayers," Hancock wrote. "The Denver Post opposes this measure, as do I. Vote NO on 300."

According to a CU Denver spokeswoman, the school “did not initiate this proposal, is not involved in the campaign or signature-gathering process, and has not taken a position on this proposed ballot initiative.”

Just over 66 percent of Lakewood voters approved recreational marijuana sales in the November 2020 election, and five of the city's ten medical dispensaries now offer recreational sales. However, Lakewood marijuana businesses and shoppers will face higher sales and excise taxes if voters approve an ordinance that would create a special tax for recreational marijuana purchases and wholesale transactions.

Earlier this year, Lakewood City Council approved a ballot initiative that would create special marijuana sales and excise taxes similar to those in many municipalities allowing recreational pot sales. The special marijuana taxes would be set at 5 percent if approved, while the City of Lakewood would gain the right to raise the tax up to 10 percent without further voter approval.

When combined with local and state taxes, Lakewood’s current overall sales tax rate for recreational marijuana purchases is 19.6 percent. The 5 percent tax increase would raise around $2.9 million per year for Lakewood, according to city estimates, with the money going toward marijuana business regulation and enforcement, public-health programs and education associated with pot use, and "other general expenses of the city."

Approved for the 2021 election by Golden City Council on August 10, two ballot initiatives would allow a limited number of recreational marijuana sales locations and institute a 6 percent special sales and excise tax on recreational pot sales. According to city estimates, the new tax would raise around $900,000 in tax revenue per year.

Over 61 percent of Golden voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, in November 2012. But the city council instituted a moratorium on all recreational marijuana businesses in 2014, the same year that adult-use dispensaries opened in cities that allowed them across the state. Golden approved medical marijuana sales before imposing the moratorium, but has only one store currently in operation.

The ballot question proposing marijuana sales was left intentionally broad so that the council can draft and implement rules, including a licensing structure and potential social equity resolutions, if both measures are approved. Only dispensaries would be allowed in Golden, not cultivation, extraction or manufacturing facilities. Although there is no proposed limit on stores in the ballot measure's language, any recreational dispensary in Golden would likely have to operate within certain designated areas that are 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and daycare centers.
click to enlarge Westminster has never allowed recreational marijuana sales, but that could change if voters approve two pot-related measures in November. - EVAN SEMÓN
Westminster has never allowed recreational marijuana sales, but that could change if voters approve two pot-related measures in November.
Evan Semón
Another town on a shrinking list of Denver suburbs that don't currently allow dispensaries, Westminster has banned marijuana sales since 2013. However, Westminster may finally join the pot trade if voters approve ballot measures put forth by the Westminster City Council that would allow retail marijuana businesses and create a new local sales tax for retail pot.

The first ballot measure is light on details, but would permit "the operation of marijuana businesses in the city" after city council creates a regulatory framework for recreational pot sales — but marijuana businesses can only come to town if Westminster voters approve a separate measure creating a special sales tax of 5 percent on pot sales. An excise tax, or a tax on wholesale transactions, is not part of the ballot question. The new tax revenue from the special sales tax, an estimated $2 million annually, would fund
marijuana business regulation and enforcement as well as education and public health programs associated with pot use and underage consumption.

Brighton's relationship with marijuana sales had been unfriendly until this year. In 2010, Brighton City Council banned medical marijuana sales, and then it banned recreational sales shortly after Coloradans legalized pot in 2012. But the current council decided that it was time for the town's voters to revisit the issue, and in July approved putting a question on the ballot that would repeal Brighton's ban on retail marijuana and create a 4 percent special sales tax on dispensary sales.

The special sales tax would raise around $2 million annually, according to city estimates, with the revenue going to capital improvements and local administrative costs related to commercial marijuana. Brighton's marijuana business code has yet to be created, and it has set no cap on dispensaries; that would all come if and when voters approve the proposal.


After a failed and hotly contested attempt to get marijuana sales on the 2020 ballot, Wellington voters will decide whether to allow dispensaries in town in November. Voters in the Larimer County town of about 10,000 people will get to weigh in on Initiative 2B, which would allow medical and recreational sales at qualified locations, as well as Issue 300, a proposed 3.5 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana purchases.

Unlike with Westminster's vote, dispensaries would still be able to open in Wellington if the marijuana sales initiative passes but the special sales tax fails. The new tax revenue would go toward general town operating expenses.

A Weld County town located between Longmont and Loveland, Mead has prohibited medical marijuana sales since 2011 and preemptively banned recreational marijuana sales in 2013. In July, a citizen initiative was submitted with enough signatures to ask Mead voters to repeal the local ban on medical and recreational marijuana sales, but proponents may be in for a tough election. In 2019, Mead voters rejected a similar measure that would've allowed pot businesses in town.

If Mead's marijuana ballot measure is approved, the town Board of Trustees would be required to create local licensing and operating rules for marijuana businesses and decide which types of marijuana businesses, and how many, could open in town.

Located just over thirty minutes from the Kansas border in Prowers County, Lamar banned marijuana sales in 2010. However, Lamar City Council revisited the issue this summer, approving two separate ballot questions that would permit medical and recreational marijuana businesses while creating special sales and excise taxes on recreational pot sales and transactions.

A vote in favor of Ballot Question 2B would end Lamar's ban on medical and recreational marijuana cultivations, dispensaries, extraction facilities, infused-product manufacturers and testing facilities. Lamar voters will also consider Ballot Issue 2A, which would create a 5 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales and wholesale transactions while giving the city the right to raise the tax up to 15 percent without voter approval. According to the ballot question, the special sales tax would raise around $450,000 annually, with the money going toward general city expenses.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell