Marijuana

Marijuana Sales Ballot Initiative Taking Shape in Golden

Over 61 percent of Golden voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana in the 2012 election.
Over 61 percent of Golden voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana in the 2012 election. Flickr/David Wilson
Although Golden City Council seems to want to stay in the talking stages regarding a marijuana sales ballot question, it may have to say something definitive soon.

Councilmembers in the foothills town have been sniffing around recreational pot sales since 2020. While there isn't unanimous support for the effort, there's a consensus on council that a retail pot ballot initiative will inevitably appear in front of voters at some point.

However, the ballot question's language and the route it would take to a local election is still under debate.

Over 61 percent of Golden voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana in the 2012 election, but the council instituted a moratorium on all recreational marijuana businesses in 2014, the same year that the adult-use pot industry went online in Colorado. That moratorium has stayed in place ever since, with Golden's lone medical dispensary grandfathered in.

If a retail marijuana question is going to appear on this November's ballot, the council's proposal or a citizen petition must be submitted by August, according to Golden's election rules. Councilmembers and Mayor Laura Weinberg prefer that a city-written ordinance proposal appear on the ballot, but first they would need to agree on its wording — and if they don't, the city's lone medical marijuana dispensary might start collecting signatures for its own petition.

Although opting out of Golden's marijuana industry moratorium can be done administratively or by voters, new marijuana taxes can only be approved by voters, because of the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Councilmembers are split on whether to combine the two issues into one ballot question or present them separately.

There is also debate as to how robust the questions should be, and if details such as dispensary location caps should be included on the ballot or decided by council at a later date. During a council meeting on June 15, Weinberg suggested that more information be provided to voters on where the local tax revenue from recreational pot would be allocated, and reminded the council that an excise tax on recreational marijuana businesses hasn't been established yet, though a 5 or 6 percent tax has been suggested.

"We need to have a number to go to the ballot," she said of the proposed excise tax.

The mayor said she also supported going to the ballot with two questions if necessary. "I'm okay going forward with it as two separate questions on this ballot," she noted. "It would be way better to have it as one [question], but if we're going to put one on the ballot, I'd rather have both [issues]."

The THC potency of commercial marijuana products, licensing structure, potential social equity resolutions and other marijuana framework discussions would likely come after the November election if the ballot measure were successful, though councilmembers Jim Dale and Bill Fisher say they want more information and community engagement about allowing marijuana sales in Golden before they'd approve a ballot question.

Meanwhile, the town's only medical marijuana dispensary, Golden Alternative Medicine (formerly Rocky Mountain Organic Medicine), is prepared to push the issue itself.

During the meeting, Golden Alternative Medicine consultant Dan Rowland said there is already language prepared for signature-gathering this summer if council doesn't come to a consensus soon on how many questions to ask voters and what should be in those questions.

"We are confident a retail marijuana tax would pass in Golden regardless of what other revenue questions may be on the ballot," Rowland told the council. "Regardless, we have prepared an initiated ordinance and tax measure of our own, and while they are certainly less restrictive than what the city is contemplating, we look forward to working with the city on this matter should the need arise."

Golden Alternative Medicine didn't respond to requests for further comment.

Broomfield, Lakewood and Littleton voters all opted into recreational marijuana sales during the November 2020 election, while five towns across Colorado, including Broomfield, approved separate measures regarding allowing retail pot and establishing a local sales tax on the industry.

Golden City Councilman Rob Reed says he sees a marijuana-related ballot question as inevitable, whether the council approves one or not, and suggested they begin community engagement to ensure more control over the language that would go to voters.

"The question of whether we're going to have retail sales will likely be on the ballot whether we put it there or not," he told his colleagues. "We should work to come up with a solution that we are writing rather than having the industry write what they think is fair."

According to Golden Community and Economic Development Director Steve Glueck, public community engagement hearings and discussions could begin as soon as mid-July.
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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