Pot tax likely on city ballot

ALAMOSA — If questions make it on the City of Alamosa ballot asking voters if they want recreational and/or medical marijuana businesses in the city limits, voters will undoubtedly also be asked to tax them.

Although not having to make a final decision until their September 6th meeting, Alamosa city councilors on Wednesday night discussed what kind of marijuana tax questions they would like to put on the November ballot if other marijuana questions make it on the ballot.

Initial petition signatures were insufficient to place marijuana questions on the ballot this fall, but makeup signatures were turned in to Alamosa City Clerk Holly Martinez at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Martinez told the council she received 172 additional signatures regarding the retail marijuana question and 160 for the medical marijuana question. Each question needed more than 50 valid signatures to make up for those invalidated earlier.

Martinez said she would be verifying the new signatures, hopefully completing the process next week.

Lead petition gatherer Shanna Hobbs initially turned in 403 signatures seeking to place a question on the ballot permitting medical marijuana facilities in the city limits and 418 signatures to place a ballot question to allow retail marijuana facilities in the city limits. She needed 212 valid signatures for both issues.

Martinez approved 156 valid signatures on the medical petition and 153 on the retail petition, and petition gatherers had until Wednesday to turn in additional signatures or correct invalid ones. Signatures were invalidated for several reasons such as the signee not living in the city limits or not providing a complete name or address.

At the start of Wednesday’s city council meeting, Hobbs said those gathering the signatures put in more than 60 hours and spoke with people in the community from all parts of the city, various socioeconomic backgrounds and varying voter affiliation.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive that it was being presented as a ballot question,” Hobbs said, “so everyone could vote.”

She shared concerns about taxing marijuana, especially medical marijuana, because folks needing it may not have insurance or other resources to pay for it, and taxes would just add to their expense. She said the state has already imposed 15 percent tax on recreational sales.

Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schwiesow said if the city had marijuana facilities, it would receive a portion of that state-imposed tax, but it would be minimal.

The councilors discussed various marijuana tax questions and generally favored seeking about 2 percent tax on medical and 5 percent on recreational sales but will not vote on the ballot questions until September. The tax questions will likely be posed to voters separately, so it is possible one might pass and the other not. The possibility also exists that voters could approve marijuana sales but no taxes on them.

Councilors and staff agreed the tax on medical marijuana sales should be less than recreational to be less of a burden on those who might need and benefit from medical marijuana. They also agreed that some tax should probably be attached to medical marijuana sales, however, to offset city costs for managing, monitoring and policing such operations.

They also agreed they should not seek voter approval for taxes on either medical or recreational marijuana that might be so high voters would not approve any tax at all. A 5-percent tax on recreational marijuana sales is about the going rate in other communities, they said.

Councilors were concerned with the ballot wording required by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), “Shall the taxes of the City of Alamosa be increased by $500,000 in the first fiscal year, beginning January 1, 2018 …”

Schwiesow said the ballot must include a limit of how much the proposed tax might generate in the first year (or face legal challenges and a nullified vote), and since staff did not know what that amount might be, they looked at other communities’ revenue to arrive at the $500,000 figure for the proposed 5-percent tax on recreational marijuana sales. If they used a smaller figure, and more revenues came in, the city might have to refund them, he explained.

City Manager Heather Brooks said staff did not anticipate revenues would be anywhere near $500,000, but that number is high enough it covers the city as far as TABOR compliance.

Councilors said they were concerned voters would see the ballot question seeking a $500,000-tax increase and just automatically vote no.

If the ballot questions move forward, the council and staff will discuss means of providing information to the public so voters fully understand what they are voting on.