Pot not purely a partisan issue in Routt County

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Election 2012

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— In a show of bipartisan support otherwise missing from much of Tuesday’s election across Colorado and the U.S., a majority of voters in all but two of Routt County’s 18 polling precincts supported Amendment 64 and the legalization of marijuana.

Amendment 64 stands out even by Routt County’s generally progressive record of voting in recent years.

Sixty-three percent of voters across the county voted for the state constitutional amendment that legalizes possession of marijuana for adults 21 and older and establishes a regulatory framework for the creation of pot shops. The amendment passed statewide with 55 percent of the popular vote.

Of Colorado’s 64 counties, Routt was one of 31 that supported the Amendment 64. Perhaps more telling is that traditionally conservative areas within Routt County voted in favor of the measure.

“I do not think this is a partisan issue whatsoever,” said Catherine Carson, chairwoman of the Routt County Democratic Party. “I think it’s more of a community issue that the society wants. We’re spending too much on criminalizing marijuana, and we need to find a solution, and that’s the message we had as a populous.”

It’s no surprise that the initiative received the highest percentage of "yes" votes within the city limits of Steamboat Springs. Support in the city's seven precincts ranged from 63.3 percent to 75.2 percent. The most supportive was Precinct 17, which includes voters who live south of Walton Creek Road and west of Whistler Road.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was in the two historically conservative precincts of western Routt County. In Precinct 2, which includes the portion of Hayden north of U.S. Highway 40, 49.5 percent of voters supported Amendment 64, compared to just 31 percent who voted to re-elect President Barack Obama. In Precinct 5, which includes the portion of Hayden south of U.S. 40, 51 percent of voters supported marijuana legalization, while just 37 percent were supportive of Obama. Combining the vote totals of the two precincts, 50.5 percent of the voters approved of Amendment 64.

“I think that if they would have done it 10 years ago, it would have been the other way around,” Hayden Town Council member Bill Hayden said late last week. “Times are changing.”

Hayden surmised that the town’s younger residents likely fueled the “yes” vote.

Mayor Jim Haskins said he was surprised West Routt residents were so supportive of the amendment. He had guessed that only 35 to 40 percent of the voters would have signed off on Amendment 64.

Precinct 10 in southern Routt County was one of the other most conservative precincts based upon Tuesday’s election results. Still, 44 percent of voters there supported Amendment 64, compared to just 33 percent who voted for Obama. It had the lowest support of Amendment 64 among the county’s 18 polling precincts. Precinct 10 includes Yampa and Toponas.

Support was higher in other areas of South Routt. Residents in the precinct that includes Stagecoach Reservoir were 64.4 percent supportive of Amendment 64, while those in the precinct that includes Oak Creek were 59.7 percent supportive. Of the 642 voters in North Routt County, 54 percent were supportive.

With local voter attitudes toward recreational marijuana now known, the county’s cities and towns are likely to decide in the coming months whether to allow recreational pot shops within their borders. Amendment 64 allows localities to ban or restrict such businesses. The state has until Oct. 1, 2013, to finalize the regulatory framework for pot businesses, although a battle could be looming between the state and federal governments. Marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic at the federal level.

With such high support in Steamboat Springs, City Council President Bart Kounovsky has said the city would likely move toward allowing pot shops after it decides on regulations and restrictions.

And despite a slim majority of West Routt voters supporting recreational marijuana use, Haskins said residents there likely will not be supportive of a pot shop in downtown Hayden. Haskins said that was the case in 2010 when there was large opposition from residents, and the council voted to not allow medicinal marijuana dispensaries.

“It’s going to be exactly the same thing,” Haskins said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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