by Ryan Mitchel Collins
Medical marijuana has made its way to Utah for better or for worse. It’s a polarizing issue, just like lots of things, but it is here and it will soon be debated at a legislative committee hearing before going into effect.
What does that mean for San Juan County and the state of Utah?
Well, I hope our readers will not judge me too much on this standard, but I was able to live through the shift of our “Greeny” neighbors and observe the changes within the state firsthand.
This will be a “long strange trip” and one that will be filled with endless puns and jokes, as well as millionaires and people who lose it all.
I had a chance this past weekend to return to my hometown where they have banned the sale of recreational marijuana outright. It was banned there shortly after it was legalized in 2012. Medicinal sales, however, are allowed.
This has resulted in a loss of tax capital that will not allow the town to grow as it continues to lose civic services that were funded by traditional taxes from the resident tax base.
People are no longer able to get the new coal jobs they had once upon a time. The economy there is stable, but not booming like times in the past.
Many people have moved away, especially the young generation who do not look at the area as a place of prosperity and hope since many of them are in the “industry.”
So they move away to places where they can gain employment in industries they can’t in their hometown and they never return.
It’s an issue that has clogged the local newspaper with letters to the editor, editorials from the publisher, and editors over the years calling for a lift on the recreational ban. But it’s to no avail, as the ban has gone on despite numerous calls for its end.
One rebellious community within the county has taken the matter into their own hands and lifted the ban within the small municipality of Dinosaur, CO, which has a population of roughly 300. Of those 300 people, 30 are employed in the three operational recreational stores that have opened up shop within the past year.
Colorado, like Utah, has a measure in their medical marijuana bill that does not allow for the banning of medicinal marijuana in counties or municipalities. But on the recreational side in Colorado, it does allow for the banning of recreational marijuana sales in individual counties and municipalities like my home county of Moffat.
They have banned it within a state that openly allows for its recreational use, so the tax revenue that is desperately needed within that county from area residents and tourists alike is leaving the county on a daily basis.
It’s a topic that seems to be funny, but in reality, carries with it millions and billions of dollars in revenue. In Colorado, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back when it came to recreational legislation was the fact that a 40 percent tax was placed on top of any marijuana purchase.
It also stipulated this 40 percent tax was to go directly to school buildings and infrastructure funds. There had been other recreational ballot measures that had failed by narrow margins before, but what did the trick on the successful attempt was the fact that there was a substantial amount of money going directly to schools.
What will be interesting is how Utah recrafts the voter proposition that was voted in 52.69 percent to 47.31 percent, with 558,417 voting yes, compared to 501,360 voting no.
The 1,065,630 votes cast for Proposition 2 were more than any other statewide race, including the Utah United States Senate race.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act was set to be discussed at a Monday meeting in Salt Lake City during a legislative committee hearing where a potential new version of the proposition is being considered.
Utah lawmakers can follow a few paths here, and they would be wise to consider the will of the voters who got the proposition on the ballot and then voted for the current version of the proposition.
The hotly debated proposition will continue to garner controversy on both sides of the aisle, much as it did in Colorado when it was first introduced.
Utah has the distinct opportunity of going into this thing after 29 states have already made the move, so there is a rich history already available on what works and what doesn’t.
The jokes have already started in San Juan County, as the subject of Proposition 2 was brought up during the commission reports at the end of their Nov. 20 meeting.
In addition to the inevitable jokes, the reality that there will be a lot of people who stand to gain a substantial amount from this proposition was also acknowledged.
It will not be long before the first medical dispensary opens in San Juan County and Grand County, but what remains to be seen is just exactly how much tax revenue and jobs are created within the respective counties.
Will Grand County take advantage of this opportunity more than, say, San Juan County or vice versa? Only time will tell, and we will have to wait to see exactly how the proposition will appear in its final form.
For now, we get to wait to see and listen to the colorful jokes that are sure to be endlessly flowing.