Littleton voters overwhelmingly approve retail marijuana, direct election of mayor

City's three medical dispensaries can now 'go rec;' mayor vote reshuffles council terms


Littleton voters overwhelmingly approved ballot questions allowing the sale of recreational marijuana and allowing citizens to directly elect the city's mayor, according to preliminary results on Election Night.

Voters approved Ballot Question 300, allowing the city's three medical marijuana dispensaries to begin recreational sales, with 64.6% of the vote in the first round of election results at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

The measure was the result of a citizen initiative spearheaded by owners of two Littleton medical marijuana dispensaries: Stanislav Zislis, who owns Silver Stem Fine Cannabis on Littleton Boulevard, and Scott Embree, who co-owns Ascend Cannabis Co. on Santa Fe Drive. Littleton's third medical marijuana dispensary is The Hemp Center on Datura Street. A fourth medical dispensary on Prince Street shut down several years ago.

The group was organized under an LLC called Residents for a Stronger Littleton.

"We're very happy and excited," Zislis said. "The voters spoke loud and clear."

The preliminary election results were almost exactly in keeping with public opinion polling cited by the group, which found 64% of respondents were in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana sales in Littleton.

A financial assessment conducted by the group estimated that Littleton could collect between $935,000 and $1.5 million per year in additional sales tax revenue if the measure was approved.

"We think this is a win-win," Zislis said. "We'll be glad to provide some extra revenue for the city, and we hope they use it wisely."

The vote ends years of opposition to retail sales from city council, which first banned retail marijuana sales in 2014, after Colorado voters passed Amendment 64. That statewide measure, which also passed in Littleton, established a constitutional right to possess marijuana for personal use, but allowed municipalities to regulate whether sales were allowed.

City council reaffirmed the ban in May 2016, after Zislis and others pushed council to overturn it. More than 50 people on both sides of the issue turned out for a passionate public hearing at that meeting. Council voted 5-1 against allowing retail marijuana.

This year, Zislis and Embree took their case directly to voters, collecting more than 4,000 signatures on a citywide petition to place the measure on the ballot.

Littleton Mayor Jerry Valdes remained staunch in his opposition to the measure. 

"I think this will mean more drugs on our streets," Valdes said. "Next thing you know, we'll be getting complaints about the smell or people walking down the street smoking pot."

Zislis dismissed Valdes' concerns, saying if public use were going to be a problem, it already would be by now.

"We've seen neighboring cities approve retail sales before us, and they're not seeing these terrible things," Zislis said. "We're looking forward to working with city council to draft rules for this that will work for everyone."

Valdes said he's grateful for the extra tax revenue, but said he feels the vote is indicative of broader cultural changes in Littleton. 

"Littleton in the past was a fairly conservative city, but we're seeing a swing to the left," he said. "We're becoming a truly liberal city."

Mayor to be directly elected

Littleton voters also overwhelmingly approved Ballot Question 3A, which allows citizens to directly elect the city's mayor, as opposed to the mayor being selected by fellow city councilmembers.

The measure was passing with 80.6% of the vote in preliminary returns on Nov. 3.

The measure, championed by city councilmember Kelly Milliman, who said the change would give citizens a greater say in who will serve as the face of the city, and allow more robust participation in regional governmental bodies with a change from a two-year to four-year mayoral term.

"This is a huge margin of support," Milliman said. "The citizens of Littleton are paying attention, and now the entire city will get to elect who represents all of us."

Under the measure, Littleton will retain its current “council-manager” form of government, with a seven-member council overseeing a city manager who oversees city staff and operations. The mayor holds an equal vote with all other councilmembers and does not wield veto power.

That's different from a “strong mayor” system typically found in larger cities like Denver, where the mayor functions like a chief executive, directly overseeing city staff and holding veto power over city council decisions.

Milliman said that with Littleton poised to break the 50,000 mark in population in the 2020 Census, it was a good time to make sure everyone in the city weighed in on the mayor. 

"We're not a small town anymore  -- we're a small city," Milliman said. "I know there are great candiates out there who will want to run for mayor."

Asked if she has any desire to run for mayor, Milliman said: "Hell no."

"There are energized, passionate, qualified people in our community who would be amazing in that role," she said. "We're changing the course of our city history here."

The measure takes effect in 2021, and means a slight reshuffling of city council terms: Currently, Littleton is represented by councilmembers representing four council districts, and three at-large members.

Of the at-large seats, two are up for grabs every two years, with the highest vote-earner given a four-year term and the runner-up given a two-year term. The framework means four city council seats are up for election every two years. The ballot measure eliminates the two-year at-large term, replacing it with the mayor role.

The measure also increases the threshold to recall a mayor — under the old system, councilmembers could unseat a mayor with four votes among themselves, whereas the new system would require a recall petition and popular vote.

Mayor Jerry Valdes said he's glad citizens will get more of a say in their mayor, but said there are still kinks to work out before the change takes effect.

"We'll work these things out, but I hope we don't need to go to the citizens to vote on more charter changes," Valdes said.

Milliman said she's eager to address any issues that come up. 

"Change is always hard, and it could be a bumpy road going forward, but this is the right time in our city's history to take this on," she said.


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