Medical marijuana ballot question passes first test

Castle Rock town council approved the ballot question for a public vote on medical marijuana, following a debate about how to educate the public about the nature of the question. When voters mail in ballots deciding whether to prohibit commercial medical marijuana operations in Castle Rock, councilmembers want to be sure voters understand that a “yes” vote means no and a “no” means yes.

The debate over the question lasted nearly an hour as town council wrestled with the matter of a public outreach. Voters who vote “yes” on the ballot question will be prohibiting, or saying “no,” to commercial medical marijuana operations. Voters who vote “no” will be approving, or saying “yes,” to the industry. The question is written in compliance with state law, which mandates that a yes vote approves the ballot measure, said Bob Slentz, town attorney.

Slentz’s legal team wrote the measure to reflect the town ordinance to ban commercial medical marijuana operations, referencing the ordinance in the ballot question.

“(The ballot question) makes clear a yes vote means the ordinance is affirmed and prohibition is affirmed,” Slentz said. “It’s driven to be clear and unambiguous.”

The ballot question asks voters whether medical marijuana centers, optional premises cultivation operations and medical marijuana-infused product manufacturing should be prohibited in the town of Castle Rock. In November, voters in unincorporated Douglas County approved a similar ballot measure, prohibiting commercial medical marijuana operations.

The vote resulted in a backlash from existing dispensaries that aim to remain open, despite the outcome of the vote. On Jan. 11, the day Castle Rock councilmembers approved the town’s ballot question, Douglas County commissioners elected to have a judge decide whether or not existing dispensaries can remain open.

The owner of Castle Rock’s sole dispensary, Amber Ostrom, addressed town council, urging them to reconsider the ballot language.

“In the November ballot it was worded such that a yes answer means no and a no answer means we want them around,” Ostrom said. “What I’ve heard is that they voted yes for medical marijuana, but if they had read it closely, it was misleading. They weren’t represented like they expected to be. I don’t necessarily think quoting ordinance numbers and rattling off a bunch of political lingo will help voters decide what they properly vote for and represent their vote.”

Slentz pointed out that voters who read the ballot are charged with educating themselves on the ordinance referenced in the ballot. Town ordinances are posted on the town’s website. Depending on the outcome of the Castle Rock vote in early April, Ostrom faces the possibility of being forced to close her dispensary, Plants 4 Life, Slentz said.

Larkspur town council decided on three ballot questions for its Jan. 25 medical marijuana election. The questions are similar in nature to Castle Rock’s, with “no” votes resulting in approval of commercial medical marijuana activities and “yes” votes resulting in prohibition. State law does not give municipalities the option to prohibit or regulate private grow operations or the activities of private medical marijuana caregivers.

Councilmembers had the option to embark on an educational outreach in advance of the second and final reading of the ballot question. Alternatively, the town can develop pro and con arguments for public distribution, said Mark Stevens, town manager.

Councilmembers opted out of further debate over the medical marijuana issue. Stevens reported town council addressed medical marijuana in 11 meetings over the course of 2010.

“When you consider we talked about this in 11 meetings last year and just thinking about the breadth of discussion that took place, I think it would be impossible to come up with arguments that supposedly capture the pros and cons that would be acceptable to everybody,” said councilmember Clark Hammelman,  District 6. “I just don’t know that we can get there from here.” 

In 2010, councilmembers were split on the medical marijuana issue, with four councilmembers opting for a prohibition and three who aimed to adopt local regulations. The council vote in September 2010 to prohibit commercial medical marijuana activities in Castle Rock resulted in a successful petition to reverse council’s decision. The town was subsequently forced to reconsider its original decision and opted to send the matter to a public vote.

Mayor Ryan Reilly, who supported local regulations, is concerned residents who vote to prohibit commercial medical marijuana activities will be unpleasantly surprised that their vote cannot eliminate home-grow operations.

“If they just come up and read the ballot title and see ‘prohibit’ they’ll think they’ll be prohibiting all medical marijuana, and that’s not the case,” Reilly said. “They can vote to prohibit (but) have a grow house pop up next door … I just don’t know how to get past that.”

The medical marijuana question will be part of the town’s mail-in ballot election. The town of Castle Rock will send ballots to registered Castle Rock voters by mid-March. The completed ballots are due by 7 p.m. April 5.

via  The News Press

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