Once and for all.
It sounds like it means forever. That the matter is closed.
That’s what retired Consulting Civil Engineer Larry Von Thun and his wife Jane thought in 2014 when they took part in a battle at the ballot box to oppose recreational marijuana sales and grow facilities in Lakewood. The city’s mayor at the time was Bob Murphy, and when the issue of the sale of recreational pot came up, he threw it to the people to answer on Election Day — to figure out what the voters of Lakewood wanted, “once and for all.”
But “forever” rarely is … forever, especially in politics. So the Von Thuns and the rest of Lakewood recently found out that the fight over cannabis in Lakewood is still smoldering. The latest flare-up is Ballot Question 2B, which will be on the ballot of every Lakewood resident. It reads as follows:
“Shall the City of Lakewood adopt an ordinance adopting regulations governing the operation of retail marijuana stores and retail marijuana cultivation facilities in the City of Lakewood and making corresponding amendments to certain sections of Lakewood Municipal Code, Chapter 5.51 concerning medical marijuana businesses? “
The wording does little to erase the perception that ballot questions can be tricky to understand. Von Thun thinks that this question is trickier than most. In his estimation the wording leads voters to make a decision about regulating something that isn’t even legal in Lakewood.
He argues it is unnecessarily confusing to have the ballot question seem like it is about regulation, instead of the real subject.
“An appropriate ballot question would need to ask the voters separately the specific questions of whether or not retail marijuana stores should be allowed, and whether or not retail marijuana cultivation facilities should be allowed,” Von Thun said.
Lakewood Councilwoman Ramey Johnson agrees. She makes no bones about what a yes vote on Ballot Question 2b would mean, and wants it to be crystal clear to voters that a “yes” vote would legalize recreational marijuana in the city of Lakewood. Something the citizens voted down in 2014. The question of commercial cultivation wasn’t on the ballot in 2014, because the city council chose not to include it. Johnson, like Van Thun, is concerned that the wording of Ballot Question 2B won’t be clear to voters.
“I want the voters to be aware, so that when they mark whatever they mark (on their ballot), they understand what it really means, and the effects on the community,” she said.
So how exactly does a ballot question reach the ballot? According to Lakewood Public Information Officer Stacie Oulton, ballot question petitions must be citizen initiated by electors (registered voters) and then get the required amount of valid signatures from registered voters. In the case of Ballot Question 2B, the number of signatures required is 5% of registered voters in Lakewood — 5,544 signatures. The wording of the ballot question is worked on in coordination with the city clerk.
Once the signatures are confirmed by the city, the city council passes an ordinance to place the question on the ballot.
* Editor’s note: The print version and an earlier version of this web story incorrection attributed the city’s mayor with “signing off” on the final language of the ballot measure.
For Ballot Question 2B, according to public filing records, the petitioners were listed as Katerina Bolas and Francesca Saviola, both of whom listed company email addresses from Ascend Cannabis Company in their contact information, although it’s unclear if they are current employees of the company. Ascend operates four dispensaries in Colorado. Three of those, including one in Lakewood, sell only medical marijuana, while the Denver store offers both medical and recreational cannabis. If Ballot Question 2B passes, the company’s status as a current medical marijuana vendor in Lakewood would allow it to sell recreational pot and edibles in Lakewood as well. It could also open the door for the company to operate a commercial grow facility in the city because of its status as a currently licensed medical marijuana business.
Businesses selling medical marijuana have seen steady business in recent years, but the money they take in pales in comparison to dollars spent on recreational weed. According to numbers put out by the Colorado Department of Revenue, medical marijuana sales for July, 2020 were $43.3 million. That same month, recreational sales topped $183 million. The combined (medical and recreational) marijuana sales in the state for 2019 came in at nearly $1.75 billion. As for 2020, sales were $1.2 billion by the end of July, putting the industry on pace to smash 2019 totals, with recreational sales pulling in the lion’s share.
If 2B passes, not just anyone could open up shop, selling recreational marijuana or establish a commercial cultivation operation in the city.
“It would allow only businesses currently licensed in Lakewood to sell medical marijuana, and in good standing with the city, to apply for a permit to sell recreational marijuana as well, or open a commercial grow house” said Oulton.
There are currently 10 licensed medical marijuana business operating in Lakewood. Lynea Hansen is the spokesperson for “Vote Yes for a Stronger Lakewood,” a pro-2B committee. She is also listed as the senior vice president at Strategies 360, a PR and communications firm that represents Ascend. She told the Jeffco Transcript that in her opinion the wording of Ballot Question 2B is perfectly clear to Lakewood residents, and that voters understand that a yes vote will open up the sale of recreational pot and commercial grow facilities. As for the issue of what makes a ballot question “citizen initiated,” Oulton confirmed that although Bolas and Saviola are listed as the petitioners for 2B, the fact that they may have been employees of Ascend at the time doesn’t make a difference. Question 2B isn’t considered an industry initiated question (something that’s not allowed), because Bolas and Saviola do count as valid electors (registered voters) in the city, and they did gather the necessary signatures for the petition.
Hansen’s counterpart on the “Vote No” side is Jim Otton. A retired research scientist with a history in geological surveys, Otton says he became concerned about marijuana and its public health effects as early as 2000 during the Amendment 20 debate, which legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. He went on to chair the committee to vote down recreational marijuana in Lakewood in 2014. His concern goes beyond just the ability of medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational pot. He thinks the other parts of 2B would be damaging in their own right. He said some of those changes involve the shortening of distance between marijuana businesses from 4000 feet to 3000 feet, the removal of size limits to any new store and by inference any new grow facility and no longer requiring a grow facility to be colocated with the retail store.
Voters will be able to make up their own minds and cast their vote to allow or reject recreational marijuana and commercial cultivation in the city.