In a special election marked by low turnout, the city of Utqiaġvik has voted in favor of instating a marijuana sales tax.
About a third the number of people who have historically participated in general elections came out to cast a ballot in this special one, held April 30. That is not out-of-the-ordinary for elections off the typical cycle. The vote also fell during the height of whaling season for the town, which may also have contributed to the low participation.
Based on unofficial results released this week, the vast majority of voters were for the tax. Of the total 238 votes cast, 171 were in favor of the tax, while only 29 were against it.
There were also 27 absentee ballots and 11 question ballots. The votes were so decisively in favor of the tax that even if all of the absentee and question ballots showed a "no" vote, it still wouldn't be enough to upset the current standing.
The marijuana sales tax was the only issue on the ballot. It came in the form of an ordinance, No. 01-2018, that needed to be ratified, or given official support.
The ordinance called for an 8 percent retail sales tax on any marijuana or marijuana product sold within city limits.
The city council passed the ordinance on Feb. 22 as its latest step toward developing a comprehensive marijuana policy for the community.
"The city of Utqiaġvik has been approached (b)y various entities (and) individuals seeking information on opening public marijuana dispensaries inside city limits," City Clerk Loyla Leavitt wrote in a public notice explaining the special election. "The city must be prepared in case a dispensary presents itself. We must be ready to receive a business application at any time."
Preparing ahead of time was the main function of this ordinance and special election, as Utqiaġvik has not yet even voted for local option of marijuana.
Though that hasn't been decided to date, the city council has taken considerable steps to establish regulatory policies, in case someone were to try to open a marijuana dispensary in the future.
In December, the council passed an ordinance establishing a regulatory authority for marijuana — being the council itself — to oversee "regulating the operation of marijuana establishments, marijuana and marijuana products within the city."
Since then, the council has made a few regulatory moves. The ordinance at the center of this special election was one. The other was the council's decision not to allow the potential sale of edibles "for the safety and welfare of the children of Utqiaġvik," Leavitt wrote in the election announcement.
In advance of the special election, which was announced a month out, the city held two public hearings on the ordinance. Turnout was fair and, according to residents who attended both, topics ranged from the ordinance at hand to the more general question of whether or not marijuana should be allowed in town.
In that way, they were similar to the town halls held last fall, which were meant to focus on establishing a regulatory body, but often tended toward the pros and cons of pot, instead. It has seemed to be a drawback of this type of debate; because the topic is so controversial, the specific issues are often lost among general opinions on the drug itself.
Now that the special election is concluded, the results will be reviewed by a canvass committee on May 7 at noon and the final tallies will be released.
This story is republished with permission from The Arctic Sounder.