AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Political yard signs pack the busy medians of Denver's largest suburb and bickering candidates fill the airwaves. But the hottest political question for many here is whether to ban commercial marijuana sales.
Aurora is one of more than 40 Colorado jurisdictions considering local rules on medical marijuana this election. Thanks to a new state law allowing local governments more leeway in regulating pot, voters across the state will consider proposed bans on dispensaries or commercial pot-growing operations. Others are being asked on Nov. 2 to set new tax rates for medical pot.
The proposed municipal bans wouldn't make medical marijuana illegal — just commercial operations such as pot shops and pot growing businesses. Patients with state-issued medical marijuana cards who live in cities that ban dispensaries would still be able to grow their own pot or buy it from dispensaries in cities that allow them.
But even in a contentious political year in Colorado, with a neck-and-neck Senate race and the governor's office up for grabs, the marijuana ballot issues have people talking about the industry's role.
"It's a pretty hot subject," said Sean Turra, 28, who works in an Aurora tobacco shop and whose customers regularly debate whether their town, Colorado's third-largest, should make permanent a ban on marijuana shops.
Turra, who doesn't use marijuana, plans to vote against the ban.
"They want more taxes for the city, right? Well, fine, this is a good thing to get more taxes," Turra said.
Industry opponents say any tax revenues are outweighed by voter unease in towns where marijuana leaves are popping up on store windows and ads promise free joints to new patients.
"My children didn't have to grow up with any kind of drug stuff going on out in the open, and I don't want my grandkids to," said Steven Wind of Colorado Springs.
Wind unsuccessfully tried to petition a dispensary ban onto ballots in Colorado Springs. But he says he'll try again next year, and this year he's campaigning for a measure to outlaw pot shops in unincorporated parts of El Paso County.
On the other side, a coalition of area dispensaries paid for Colorado's first television ad on the issue. It features people holding signs that read, "I am a Patient," along with a list of ailments treated with marijuana.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, but the recent proliferation of marijuana dispensaries prompted state lawmakers this year to adopt the state's first pot-shop licensing plan. New rules include a requirement that dispensaries grow 70 percent of the pot they sell and seed-to-sale tracking of the marijuana in hopes of preventing medical pot from ending up on the black market.
The municipal pot shop votes come as California voters consider a statewide measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Because the Colorado measures are all local, there's been no good polling here to indicate how the pot bans will fare. Some towns, including Vail, have bypassed public votes entirely, with city council or county commission votes to ban pot shops.
The head of a state marijuana legalization advocacy group, SAFER Colorado, said he has no idea how the votes may go. But Mason Tvert said that even if every local ban is approved, it won't be horrible news for legalization advocates.
"The fact that so many communities are voting on how to handle the sale of medical marijuana, we view that as a positive," Tvert said. "We're beyond debating whether marijuana should be allowed, but debating how and where it should be allowed, which is how it should be."
In Aurora, no one seems to know how the vote will go.
"A lot of people do pot as a recreation drug, so you want to keep it off the streets. But some of the people need it for medicinal purposes, like cancer patients. So I don't know," said bartender Robert Robinson, who hasn't decided about the city's dispensary ban. "I hear a lot of opinions around here, but on this one, I'll be honest, I have no idea."
List of Colorado's municipal pot measures: http://www.cml.org/Medical_Marijuana.aspx