Advocates say jobs, tax revenue at stake in marijuana vote
Jeff Cassinari was unemployed for six months before landing a job a year and a half ago as a manager at Green Natural Solutions, a medical marijuana center at 733 Rood Ave.
If voters in April decide to ban the centers, Cassinari expects he will be forced to go back on unemployment until he finds a new line of work. Cassinari’s fate may be like an estimated 130 people in Grand Junction who have landed jobs in the business of selling medical marijuana, according to the advocacy group Mesa County Constitutional Advocates.
“I’m definitely worried,” Cassinari said. “I definitely do better with a job. My family and I may have to move. That would mean a loss to the city of all the things we buy here: groceries, movies, rent.”
Grand Junction voters will decide April 5 whether medical marijuana centers should stay or go. Mesa County voters already determined the centers should not be allowed in unincorporated areas of the county.
Besides jobs, medical marijuana centers provide local sales tax revenue. Since 2009, the city’s medical marijuana centers have produced $164,000 in city sales tax receipts.
City staff broke out medical marijuana sales tax receipts, specifically, at the request of City Council.
The city tax is 2.75 percent of sales. Total tax for city, county and state is 7.65 percent. In lean times, the city of Grand Junction collects about $3.5 million a month in sales tax revenue, but that can increase to nearly $5 million a month during times of robust consumer spending.
As of November, medical marijuana had produced $2.2 million in sales tax statewide.
Grand Junction has reported having as many as 32 medical marijuana sales tax licenses. That number has been reduced to 19 shops with active sales tax accounts. Six of the 19 shops are delinquent on paying sales taxes, city records show.
For the most part, medical-marijuana advocates say city voters may be more amenable to allowing centers to continue operating in city limits. During November’s countywide vote, more city dwellers voted to keep the centers, while more voters in unincorporated Mesa County opposed the idea. The measure failed by a 2.5-percentage-point margin.
“We feel pretty confident that the city vote is going to go better than the county vote,” said Shawn Kizer, an employee at Nature’s Medicine, 2755 North Ave. “We are just making future plans as if we’re going to be here.”
Some customers who lived in the unincorporated county and saw their neighborhood shops close didn’t realize they could have voted against closing it, Kizer said.
And some people still think voting against having medical marijuana centers in town is a vote against medical marijuana.
“It is not,” he said. “If we get voted out, it goes back to the caregiver model. That’s what we’re trying to get out is that getting it at (dispensaries) is the safest way to get it.”
Although the election is still more than two months away, members of the Mesa County Constitutional Advocates said they plan to hit the streets soon, taking their message door to door.
“We’re definitely fighting for our shops,” said Kate Reyes, the group’s spokeswoman.