Cripple Creek Voters to Decide Fate of Future Pot Outlets and Cannabis Taxes

Citizens Facing  Ballot Explosion With Possibly Five Pending Issues In Upcoming Months

Rick Langenberg


Cripple Creek voters need to sharpen their pencils and pens in casting tallies on a possible record for ballot propositions, capped by plans this November to legalize future marijuana outlets and to open the door for more cannabis revenue.


In addition, local citizens will decide the fate of a one-cent sales tax hike.


And this is just part one of a future ballot boom  in the Creek.


In forthcoming months, citizens could be casting tallies on council ouster propositions, targeting two current elected leaders, Mark Green and Charles Solomone. Although these latter two petition efforts won’t qualify for the November ballot, they could lead to a special election if enough signatures are tallied to force recall votes.  The wording for the recall petitions has been approved by the city clerk’s office.


Regardless of the results of the recall proposals, the next couple of  months will be busy times for local voters and election workers.


Last week, in a long and marathon session, the Cripple Creek Council promptly agreed with the ballot plans submitted by City Attorney Erin Smith, clarifying the often complex reefer-voting situation for local residents.


She told the council and public that in order for marijuana outlets to become legal, voters must pass two ballot measures. The first one merely asks voters if they want to change the current city codes to permit “licensed, regulated marijuana facilities within the city of Cripple Creek.” This matter is also contingent on a positive outcome  for a related cannabis-related tax proposition, which includes a 5 percent excise levy on the sale or transfer of unprocessed marijuana, along with an 18 percent special city sales tax on the sale of retail marijuana and a small occupational fee  The excess tax, which mainly deals with transaction made between the marijuana-based grower and retail operator, also calls for 25 percent of this revenue to be spent on destination marketing, aimed at promoting city-wide entertainment and recreation.


The council had previously set the stage for the marijuana questions at an earlier meeting last month. But smith wanted to do more research on the related marijuana-tax measures to see if the proposed levies are permitted, and didn’t exceed statutory limits.  Last week, she concluded that her initial proposals, presented in a meeting in mid-August, were on par with state rules and comparable to other towns that allow retail marijuana.


The cannabis tax ballot question would set the stage for the city to generate future pot revenue, ranging from $100,000 per year to $1 million. This stated amount is required under the restrictions of the Taxpayer  Bill of Rights law, which limits funding increases by local entities without a vote of the people.


At last week’s final hearing, no comments were made or questions were raised . For the most part, the council praised Smith for her work in crafting the final marijuana-based ballot proposals.  These occurred, following a successful citizen-initiated petition effort on a proposed ordinance that called for doing away with the current prohibitions against legal reefer operations.  The council had the option of accepting this plan, or to reject it and refer the matter to the voters. They took the second option.


Bringing in A Bad Element?

The marijuana issue has already stirred much public comment. Law enforcement and political leaders in Teller  County have come out swinging in opposing the plans, saying the area just doesn’t have the resources to grapple with the future impacts of retail marijuana. They contend that it would bring about a new dangerous element and kill the town’s image as a family-friendly spot that promotes tourism.


Proponents, though, say it would allow Cripple Creek to become more competitive with other entertainment/tourist destinations in Colorado and that people using cannabis are already doing so. The campaign is supported by the Cripple Creek  Casino Association, which has been urging the city to consider an alternative revenue source other than taxing betting devices for operational funds.


By comparison, the pro-marijuana initiative proponents have been much more low-key in their support efforts and haven’t tried to challenge the reefer critics at public forums.


The legalization of pot outlets  has been mulled for years in Cripple Creek. For  months, rumors abounded regarding an actual pro-marijuana petition drive. That reality finally occurred in mid-summer, with a group called Cripple Creek Wins, with Kyle Blakely of  the Colorado Springs-based Avant Strategies, serving as the registered agent and media consultant.


The big unknown card  is how much revenue will get generated, if the pro-marijuana measure passes. Cripple Creek Finance  Director Paul Harris has cited Central City, a fellow gaming town in Colorado, as  a good model to follow.  Central City generates  between $300,000 and $350,000 a year from marijuana outlets.  Another big question marks surrounds the outcome of a vote in Colorado Springs for legalizing recreational marijuana outlets.


Besides the marijuana questions, Cripple Creek voters will decide the fate of a one-penny increase for its annual sales tax. This issue has been supported by the city, as officials say this proposed increase is still quite a bargain for residents, compared to fees charged in other towns. It wouldn’t apply to food products used for home use.


Recall of Council Members

Late last month, the town’s ballot picture got even more complex with the submittal of recall petitions, targeting council members Mark Green and Charles Solomone.  Green, who was elected last November with no opposition, represents Ward Four; and Solomone, a slightly more veteran leader of the panel, represents Ward  Five.


The recall asks for their removal due to not representing “the best interests of electors, small business and nonprofits in the city of Cripple Creek,” according to the petition wording.

The ouster effort is linked to their reported opposition to the funding of special events and support for a retail gift shop at the Heritage Center that council opponents say “would directly compete with local small businesses and nonprofits, creating an unfair playing field.” There are a few issues dealing certain event promoters that have also come into play, according to political insiders.


Public comment on these issues has gotten quite heated and has resulted in a letter to the editor fight, aired at times in TMJ News and on social media outlets.


The targeted members recently fully stood behind their stand on key issues, saying much progress has occurred in Cripple Creek under their reign. They argue that the practices of former councils, such as pouring huge amounts of  money into special events and marketing, can’t be continually pursued.


The wording of both recall petitions has been launched by a group called the Citizens Recall Coalition, under the theme, “It’s Time to Save Cripple Creek. “


According to city officials,  the petition against Solomone was filed on Aug. 18, while the one against  Green moved forward on Aug. 23, after experiencing an initial delay.  The petitioners have 60 days from these dates to submit their recall petition documents with registered voters from these specific wards.


Due to the timing of ballot issues for the Nov. 8 election, officials don’t believe these petitions can qualify for the Nov. 8 election.


As a result, a special election will likely have to occur, funded by the city, if these ouster efforts move successfully forward.