2014 moratorium could end early

In 2014, it was an issue that split the town of 2,500 virtually down the middle. Two years ago the residents of Palmer Lake voted on two marijuana-related ballot issues, one to allow retail recreational sales in the town (which was defeated 716 to 631) and one that would create a three-year moratorium on any recreational shops, which passed 710 to 634. That ballot issue also said the city could allow recreational sales only after a vote of the people.

Despite the moratorium, recreational marijuana and a new way to tax it could be on the town’s ballot in November due to the efforts of Regulate Palmer Lake, spearheaded by Melissa Woodward and her mother, Brenda, residents and wholesale cannabis growers.

The Woodwards own and operate Premier Organics, which has been in business for about a year. They need about 100 signatures — or 5 percent of registered voters — by Aug. 5 to get two questions on the ballot in the fall — one allowing a single retail marijuana store per 2,000 adult residents that would be located on the outskirts of town, and one creating an additional 5 percent sales tax levied on any recreational cannabis sold. The Woodwards said their attorney estimates the town could add $500,000 to its general fund annually via that tax.

“We deliver all over the state — from Denver to Boulder to Black Hawk and Central City,” Melissa said. “We see how much money they’re making. A Boulder shop said they’ll do $50,000 in sales on a Friday. … We see this as a huge opportunity as business owners and as residents of Palmer Lake.

“We also go to council meetings and know the town needs $158,000 for wildfire mitigation, and they’re talking about fundraising to get it,” she continued. “This is not a town that has the money to do basic support projects. This is a way to easily get the revenue to do it.”

The Woodwards have a vested interest in passing the ballot initiative: The legalization of recreational sales would allow any currently licensed and operating recreational grows in town the first right of refusal — and the only such grow belongs to the Woodwards.

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Which law is the law?

While the moratorium was approved by voters in 2014, the new retail question would supersede previous mandates if it passes, said Town Administrator Cathy Green-Sinnard.

“In the eyes of the law, citizens can change their minds,” she said.

The Woodwards would not disclose the number of signatures they’d gathered, but Brenda Woodward said she doesn’t anticipate problems getting the questions on the ballot.

‘I don’t think it’s fair’

Dino Salvatori purchased medical marijuana dispensary Palmer Lake Wellness in 2012, but the business has been in town since 2010. He leases what used to be Pinz Bowling Center on the town’s east end. Salvatori said he’s invested $750,000 in renovating a building “nobody would put any money into” and turned it around. A Golden resident, Salvatori said he’s invested a couple million dollars in a town that’s not his own.

“Basically I’ve dug the trench so they can lay the pipe,” he said of Regulate Palmer Lake’s initiative. “Obviously I don’t think it’s fair. But I’ve talked with my lawyers. I’ve been approved for [recreational wholesale]; the same thing they have.”

If the recreational sales initiative passes, he would pursue the license, he said.

“I think Palmer Lake needs recreational marijuana. I really do,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re going about it the right way, and having a monopoly is crazy. I think the way they worded [the recreational ballot question] is ripe for litigation.”

Salvatori moved from the location the Woodwards currently use for their grow operation because he said the space was too small to sustain a recreational shop. He chose the bowling alley for his business because he was planning for future recreational sales.

“If I stayed in this building, this is the place to have it,” he said. “I have the parking and the facility. I was in that old building and that’s why I moved out. There’s not room to do rec there. Put it this way: There’s a pretty good chance if the town votes [in favor of] recreational [sales] it will be here and it will be me.”

‘Wherever they want’

If it were up to Michael Maddox, the moratorium would run in perpetuity. Maddox, executive director of the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts, was Palmer Lake’s mayor pro tem when the marijuana question first arose in 2014. Maddox is staunchly opposed to recreational sales in Palmer Lake.

“I told the media then I was a strange politician because not only did I try [marijuana], but I admitted it,” he said. “I inhaled — a lot. … I know the drug culture and the marijuana culture.”

Maddox even wrote a book called Peace Freak about the lifestyle in the 1960s and ’70s.

“I know it’s not a good thing,” he said, using the Netherlands and its rescheduling of high-potency cannabis in the same category as cocaine and Ecstasy in 2011 as an example.

“If one of the most liberal countries on the planet reclassified marijuana as a hard drug, shouldn’t that give us pause in Colorado? Shouldn’t we think about that?” he said.

Joe Schriner, a handyman who recently moved to Palmer Lake from Elbert, said the town should find ways besides marijuana sales to raise funds for needed projects.

“We can brainstorm,” he said. “There are absolutely other ways to raise money.”

Schriner said he is concerned people will be “on the roads smoking pot, smoking it in the public parks. They’ll do it wherever they want.”

‘Nothing’s gone to hell’

The Woodwards say nothing else would come close to generating the tax revenue recreational marijuana could provide in a short amount of time, but Melissa said she is uneasy with how divided the town became in 2014 and hopes this year can be different.

“One of our biggest concerns going in — and people have brought it to our attention — is in 2014 this really divided the town. People got really aggressive on social media,” Melissa said. “We’re from here. We don’t want a divided or hurt town. We’re trying to run a positive campaign. … We’re also hoping in the two years that have passed people maybe learned a little more about it and have some history to go on. They’ve seen what’s happened in other towns. Nothing’s gone to hell.

“I’m hoping the voters keep that in mind.”