Growth of a quasi-legal enterprise

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Like King Canute commanding the tide to recede, the Colorado Springs City Council evidently believes that it can slow down and control the de facto legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

During 2000, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing marijuana to be prescribed for eight specific health conditions. Since then, the number of people for whom marijuana has been prescribed has steadily climbed, and now includes nearly 15,000 Coloradoans.

Clearly, the categories are broad enough, or physicians are lax enough, to prescribe the demon weed to almost anyone who cares to ask.

In Denver, the new marijuana boom is in full swing.

This week’s issue of Westword, Denver’s long-established alternative weekly newspaper, contains seven and a half color pages of marijuana-related ads, more than for any other business category. Dozens of growers and marketers, loosely disguised as “clinics” or “professional caregiving services” tout their wares to would-be puffers.

One offers “Denver’s best selection of medicine, over 30 strains to choose from!!! Meds starting at $25.” A competitor offered even more selections, luring medical connoisseurs with “Colorado’s largest clone room — over 200 strains,” not to mention a “wide variety of edibles,” as well as the opportunity to “safely medicate on-site.”

Last Sunday’s Denver Post took note of the phenomenon, reporting that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which processes applications for medical marijuana cards, has been receiving 400-600 such applications daily.

Theoretically, the sale, cultivation and use of marijuana are against the law. In practice, it’s not.

As we pointed out in these pages some time ago, the illicit production, distribution and sale of marijuana in Colorado Springs alone is a $70 million business. Thousands of users and sellers risk criminal penalties by participating in the trade. Moreover, many large-scale suppliers are linked to murderous transnational cartels.

Would society’s interests be best served by allowing adults to purchase marijuana just as they purchase liquor? Appropriately licensed and regulated providers would replace today’s lawless marketplace. Disputes among buyers and sellers would be resolved by the courts, not at the point of a gun. Prices would fall, and marijuana might lose its once-romantic appeal to the young.

Tellingly, that seems to be what’s happening in Denver, where marijuana merchants compete with each other on price, quality and convenience. What was once unthinkable is now just another growth business (pun intended).

However, our city has a notable history of drug prohibition.

Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Palmer included ironclad restrictive covenants which prohibited the sale or manufacture of “intoxicating liquors” on any property within the boundaries of Colorado Springs. Violating the covenants would trigger a reversionary clause, and title would pass to Palmer’s Colorado Springs Co.

That didn’t bother the owner of a building at the northeast corner of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street who installed a so-called “spiritual wheel.” Passers-by had only to drop a couple of coins in the wheel, which would rotate to serve a surreptitious shot of whiskey to the thirsty customer.

And during 1891, the worthy gentlemen who founded the El Paso Club persuaded the mayor and 10 aldermen (as City Council members were then called) that liquor served in the club wasn’t really liquor at all, and opened a members-only bar.

Today, Palmer’s covenants have no legal force, and the still-private bar at the El Paso Club has more than 20 competitors within a few blocks of its downtown location

In the midst of one of the gravest financial crises in the history of the city, medical marijuana ought not to be on the city council agenda — unless council anticipates a new source of tax revenue.