Tom Ross: Deciphering the Steamboat Springs election vote
November 4, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Tuesday's election results proved once and for all that I am the world's worst at predicting political outcomes. And I have a college degree in political science.
No matter what your educational background, if you are like me, you've probably spent the past few days sifting through election returns trying to understand the meaning behind the city and county electorates' vote to reject a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries by a significant margin.
More than 54 percent of county voters rejected Referendum 1A, and voters in Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek (Referendums 2C and 2E, respectively) rejected similar bans in their communities by 60 percent. Yampa voters favored Referendum 2A, banning dispensaries by a total vote of 92-50.
Some will look in the rearview mirror and say that had the Routt County measure not been plugged into the same election cycle as the Steamboat referendum, it would have been approved. It's true that 1,832 county voters outside Steamboat voted in favor of the ban and 1,717 opposed it — a surprisingly narrow (to me) margin.
But the political calculus obviously is not as simple as subtracting Steamboat precincts from the Routt County vote. First, everyone who lives in Steamboat also lives in the county. And realistically, at least a percentage of Steamboat voters on both sides
of the question would have been motivated to turn out the vote on the county measure, even without a city referendum on the ballot.
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It's easy to pronounce that "the people have spoken." But what really were they saying?
We all can agree that several thousand voters who do not hold medical marijuana cards opposed the ban.
Perhaps they were thinking:
■ The prevailing marijuana laws are the 2011 equivalent of prohibition.
■ It was unfair of the city to create an environment that encouraged entrepreneurs to invest in marijuana-based businesses, only to put a question before the voters that would have pulled the rug out from under them.
■ Our society is hypocritical in the way it allows children to watch beer commercials during NFL football games but demonizes an herbal remedy.
■ If only out-of-state residents were eligible for medical marijuana cards in Colorado, we could build a substantial marijuana-driven tourism industry right here in Ski Town USA.
■ Our school district needs the revenue that medical marijuana generates for the half-cent sales tax the city collects for the Steamboat Springs Education Fund.
I don't have the answers to these provocative questions. But I do have a slam-dunk recommendation for school district and city officials.
The Steamboat Springs School Board faces a dilemma about whether to continue funding its share of the cost of placing a Steamboat police officer in the high school in the role of community resource officer. Considering that the half-cent of sales tax for education applies to marijuana sales, would it be appropriate for the Education Fund Board to offer the School Board the gift of an amount equivalent to marijuana tax receipts to help fund the school resource officer?
I doubt that medical marijuana sales generate enough tax revenues to fund half of the salary for that position. But at the least, it would solve a moral dilemma.
Similarly, the city could break out the equivalent of sales tax revenues generated by medical marijuana and fund a drug education program for youths through Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.
There's one thing I'm fairly confident of: The thousands who voted against the ban weren't saying that they are indifferent to the social ills children and adolescents can be exposed to through experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
And just in case you were wondering, yes, I inadvertently inhaled some funny-smelling smoke during the free Grace Potter concert at Howelsen Hill last summer. It was difficult to avoid, but I'm fairly certain that I did not cop a buzz.