After a seven-year ban on marijuana sales in Norwood, the town may shift gears and allow the sale of the once-forbidden substance — that is, if voters decide so this spring.
In 2013, Norwood constituents were asked about supporting medical marijuana and retail sales in Norwood. But during public meetings, townspeople overwhelmingly expressed their opposition.
That year featured a few standing-room-only meetings, during which landowners and many ranching families showed up to explain why Norwood shouldn’t allow marijuana sales, with a few folks in attendance from the other side arguing for pot shops on Grand Avenue — most of them invested in or already working in the marijuana industry.
Perhaps times have changed. After Amendment 64 was approved by colorado voters in 2014, both Ridgway and Telluride adopted regulations to allow marijuana sales. Last year, Naturita did the same, permitting a few shops in the West End, too.
Now that Norwood has seen how it’s done when it comes to complying with land-use code amendments and state regulations, the town’s officials are willing to ask the public again if they support the concept. And, perhaps the town is ready to see some of the tax revenue that can be generated from marijuana sales.
Mayor Kieffer Parrino said it’s time to let the people express their opinions at the polling place.
THE MAYOR SPEAKS
Parrino said people have approached him since Norwood’s 2013 marijuana moratorium to ask the town to reconsider the ban, more so in the last few years. According to him, rather than waiting for folks to petition by gathering signatures to present to the board, the town board decided to simply allow people to vote.
“Basically, as times changed, we made a decision for it not to be a five-person board decision, but to put in on the ballot,” he said. “We definitely made a decision back then that we didn’t want to be the first ones to do this. … Let’s see how it pans out, the rules, the changes … and basically the fact that Naturita went that way, for Norwood it could be a good decision to go there. Things are in place now.”
The idea of placing the idea of marijuana shops on the ballot for the April 7 election has been discussed at the last few town board meetings. So far, Parrino said, nobody has come forward in person to voice complaints during the public comment period. (The Norwood Post, The Watch’s sister publication, has also written about town officials revisiting this issue, and the fact that ballot questions could possibly be established for April. To date, no letters to the editor in opposition have been submitted.)
In the meantime, Norwood town officials have been studying Naturita’s ballot questions that were put to West End constituents. The town also had town attorney Herb McHarg look at the wording of their questions.
“Basically, it’s up to the people, and that’s the way I feel it needs to work,” he said. “It will be interesting to see the way the people vote.”
Come April, voters will cast their votes regarding four questions related to marijuana sales. The first asks whether or not Norwood should permit medical and retail marijuana stores, which would, of course, be subjected to the state’s codes and the town’s future regulations. Should the question pass, no stores would be permitted before January 2021.
Additionally, voters will decide whether a medical and retail product manufacturing facility should be permitted.
They’ll also vote on whether a testing center for marijuana products should be permitted in town. At the town’s January meeting, Trustee Candy Meehan told those in attendance that the testing center could be advantageous.
“There is no testing facility for marijuana on the Western Slope, and Norwood has the option to capture that business,” she said.
The last question on the April ballot asks whether Norwood’s taxes shall be increased by $100,000 annually before the first fiscal year of marijuana sales. Town officials said this question enables the town to draw revenue from medical and retail marijuana sales. According to Patti Grafmyer, the town’s manager, $100,000 is an arbitrary number. She said tax revenue from the sales should be set somewhere between 2 and 10 percent, but would not likely hit the $100,000 mark.
“That $100,000 is just a number,” Grafmyer explained. “We put it high enough so that you won’t have to go back to the voters to raise taxes … a fail-safe (in order) to not have to return to the voters any time in the near future.”
Town officials said Naturita didn’t come close to seeing $100,000 in tax revenue from marijuana sales last year.
They also said during their February meeting that it’s important for voters to understand that Norwood would not raise all sales taxes. Rather, the town would draw revenue from marijuana products specifically — if they are indeed permitted for sale. That means only people purchasing marijuana would be taxed in the future.
There is no option on the ballot to vote in commercial grow operations. At this time, no commercial marijuana cultivation will be permitted in the Town of Norwood, though there are two grow facilities that exist in the county’s jurisdiction outside of Norwood’s town limits.
WHAT THE TOWN DOESN’T WANT
In the last year, Norwood officials have been ironing out their definition of a “formula business,” mostly due to heated discussions that ensued after Dollar General inquired about a Main Street property in Norwood.
Parrino believes that Norwood’s Planning & Zoning Board’s progress on the formula business discussion has helped shape how Norwood’s future marijuana shops will exist, if any or all the questions pass.
“That’s the other aspect of finishing up the whole formula business and land use code,” he said. “We are very strong on any company that comes to town needs to follow that land use code as well.”
Parrino referenced Rocky Mountain Cannabis arriving in Naturita once the West End gave the green light to pot shops.
“The people have said, ‘We are all for this, but we don’t want a big box one coming in,’ and the underlying tone is we want to keep it local,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the rules in place, so we don’t get (a larger, chain-type store) in Norwood.”
Because of the new land use code amendments, which the mayor said are now “done” and “there,” any company thinking of establishing a store in Norwood would have to follow the standard two-step process for approval.
At this point, Norwood will allow for no more than two marijuana stores, same as the West End.
PUBLIC COMMENTS WELCOME
Town clerk Gretchen Wells said it’s important for the people of Norwood to understand that they can still comment on the marijuana issue appearing on the April ballot. She said the town will accept written comments until 4:30 p.m., Feb. 21.
This, she said, was in accordance with C.R.S 1-7-901, standard election law.
“All comments filed in writing will be received and kept on file with the designated election official,” she said. “However, only those comments filed by an eligible elector of the Town of Norwood will be summarized in the ballot issue notice that is mailed to all residents. The election official will retain all comments and treat them as election records.”
Sara Owens, of Norwood, said that she would vote in favor of Norwood permitting marijuana-related businesses, although she said (prior to being interviewed by The Watch) she was not exactly sure what the ballot questions were, or how they’d be worded. Owens is an employee of one of the West End’s new marijuana stores, so she’s familiar with the state’s laws, as well as local regulations that Western Slope communities have put in place.
“I would be in support of a pot shop in Norwood, and I do work for The Green Room in Naturita” she said.
Owens said she believed that the benefits of Norwood joining surrounding communities to make the products available would include additional tax revenue for the town. She also said the future businesses would create more “local living-wage jobs” for people residing on Wright’s Mesa.
Owens said she views marijuana products as “alternative medicine,” something she’d like to see people have more access to in Norwood.
She currently drives 25 minutes each way for work, and Owens said she would definitely consider an option to work in the industry in Norwood.
“If the opportunity presented itself to work in town, I’d totally go for it,” she said.