Small town voters promised money for pro-pot vote

LARKSPUR, Colo. – Going by the dictionary definition, one could argue that the voters of Larkspur are being offered a bribe.

The town's 187 registered voters will decide Tuesday whether to legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana sales.

Proponents are promising tens of thousands of dollars in tax rebates to each voter if they vote yes.

Aflier being circulated in the town shows an image of a check for "up to $24,000" with the words "with a yes vote, this check will be yours!"

Opponents call the campaign ads a scam, aimed at creating the only legal marijuana stores between the major population centers of Denver and Colorado Springs.

"[$24,000] will never happen. It's like, you know Bernie Madoff," said opponent Paul Erickson. "I see this as the marijuana industry trying to hijack this little town."

The taxation question on the ballot would impose a five percent special tax on marijuana sales. The town government would keep the first $45,000 of the tax and refund any amount above that to town residents.

It only took ten signatures on a petition to force the town council to take up this issue, says Marijuana proponent James McVaney.

"That's one of the nice things about small towns," said McVaney, who defends his campaign fliers as an idea of the "best-case scenario," assuming 50,000 transactions per month in the town, with an average of $100 worth of marijuana sold to each customer.

McVaney assumed 122 people would get the rebates, though Town Manager Matt Krimmer tells 9NEWS it would be closer to 187 people, meaning each would get $16,000 in McVaney's hypothetical of $60 million in annual Larkspur pot sales.

"I don't see that as being unrealistic, it is being optimistic, though," McVaney said, pointing out that pot shops in Larkspur would have no competition for tens of miles in any given direction.

"It's enticing," countered Erickson. "But it's bogus."

Erickson dismisses the assumption that one-fifth of the state's population would be potential customers. He guesses the rebate will be more like $600 per voter, meaning about $3 million in annual pot sales.

While each side is trying to spin the rebate figure, voters would be wise to be skeptical of the prospects.

A major marijuana store in Denver, which asked to be kept anonymous for competitive reasons, tells 9NEWS it currently makes about 7,800 recreational pot transactions per month, averaging about $80 per sale.

That level of sales town-wide would generate nearly $1,700 in rebates per voter. Three stores (the number the ballot question envisions) that size would generate about a $5,000 rebate.

It's unknown how large the customer base would be for marijuana sales in Larkspur. To the South, Colorado Springs doesn't allow pot shops, though residents there will soon be able to visit stores in nearby Manitou Springs.

To the North, customers may be more inclined to do their shopping at pot stores in the Denver Tech Center than in Larkspur.

The issue has sparked activism among the thousands who live in unincorporated areas just outside of Larkspur. In fact, neither McVaney or Erickson is eligible to vote in Tuesday's election because they live out of town limits., though both hope the handful of voters in the town will go their way.

Becky Voth, who also lives near to Larkspur, concedes any tax rebate could be attractive to voters, but argues it's a dirty way to campaign for pot.

"It's like prostitution, you know," said Voth. "We're buying your vote, let's just sell it."

She hopes voters will think first about the impact an influx of marijuana shoppers will have on quality of life in the town, not about the promise of a check from the tax revenue.

The two sides disagree on whether that would be a net positive, but they do agree there will be a lot more people in town if pot shops open their doors.

In one sense, this vote will test which thing the townspeople in Larkspur value more: quiet or money.

A majority of less than a hundred can sway the result either way.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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