I don’t attend a lot of events in my official capacity as city councilman. I hope most of the hosts don’t take it personally. Not an evening or morning or lunch hour would be free if I made it a habit. And the dry cleaning bills would gobble up my fat council paycheck.
I probably should make an exception for the mayor’s State of the City address on June 30, hosted by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. But as the Business Journal’s John Hazlehurst first reported, I’m boycotting the event, to protest the chamber’s backward, close-minded, blindly-discriminatory treatment of medical marijuana businesses in town. I think it sets a bad precedent for the “voice of business” to treat some businesses as less-equal, less-reputable, less acceptable than others — for the chamber to be treating these businesses (and by extension their patrons) like second-class citizens. We have created enough pariah industries and businesses in the United States without adding new ones. These are attitudes the chamber should be fighting, not fomenting.
I’m glad the chamber backed away a bit from its initial hard line stance. It reportedly won’t be joining with those who want to put a dispensary ban on the November ballot. But its flirtation with disaster — and it would have been disastrous for the chamber to take such a blatantly anti-business position — raises questions about who is in charge, what kind of advice it’s getting and whether it has lost its way.
As a private organization, the chamber is free to take whatever position it likes. I just think this one is wrongheaded and short-sighted.
Most involved in this emerging new economy are daring entrepreneurs running straight operations, which pay taxes, fill vacant space, serve as an engine for the local economy and provide a constitutionally-sanctioned service to people who believe it helps them. The novelty of what they do makes some folks nervous. But they have a right to exist. They would seem like just the sort of small businesspeople the leading local business organization would be eager to learn about, court and assist. Yet the chamber seems to want the city to roll up the welcome mat.
The city has been in the process of drafting and approving medical marijuana rules and regulations for seven or eight months now, in order to try and get a handle on a new and chaotic situation. A task force drafted a comprehensive ordinance, in open meetings to which all (including the chamber) were invited. The draft was handed off to the city, which was working through its process when legislators approved House Bill 1284 — a typically-botched political “fix” that creates more problems than it solves. It added new wrinkles to the laundry by declaring dispensaries legitimate and constitutional, while also — in contradictory fashion — giving local governments the right to ban them through ballot measures.
Whether one group can vote away another group’s constitutional rights is doubtful. Therefore, the so-called “local option” is almost certain to be tangled up in court for years to come. That raises questions about whether a voter-approved dispensary ban, even if it passes, will ever be enforced. That path will only prolong the uncertainty, the anxiety and the tension this situation creates for these businesses, for their patients and for the general public. A better way is for the city to move forward with an ordinance-writing process in which all will be heard.
A majority on this council has consistently — and courageously, in my view — supported moving forward with local rules and regulations. We’ve declined to be sidetracked by a few anti-MMJ reactionaries. We were thus completely blindsided when the chamber, which has not been heard from, publicly or privately, in all these months, showed up to inform us that we were rushing forward too quickly on local regulations and that the dispensary question needed to go back to voters.
This one-man boycott is my small way of registering displeasure at the way the chamber handled this, but I don’t think any hard feelings will last. The chamber will have no stronger ally than me when it wants to get back to the work of creating local businesses, not destroying them. But it seems for the moment to have lost its way.
Paige is a Colorado Springs councilmember.