Let’s be sensible on hot issues

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As the year of 2013 arrives, the Colorado Springs area faces two uncertain matters that must be addressed in the weeks and months ahead. Trouble is, both of them qualify as hot-button issues, far more volatile than filling potholes or maintaining parks.

In fact, these two agenda items have become questions for each end of the political spectrum.

We’re talking about drilling and marijuana.

First, the City Council has to deal with establishing regulations for, and then allowing, companies to drill for oil and/or gas inside the city limits. Next, at some point, Council must decide whether to establish a framework for retail sales of marijuana as allowed by the recently passed Amendment 64.

Drilling, specifically the practice of hydraulic fracturing (using large amounts of water, sand and chemicals to shake loose oil or gas deposits from shale far below the ground), has ignited the wrath of environmentalists. They have heard stories from such states as Pennsylvania and New York, where careless fracking has permanently tainted some areas’ water supplies, and they assume the worst would surely happen here.

Exploratory wells already have been started outside the city, in unincorporated areas of El Paso County, with no verdict yet as to success or failure. Meanwhile, Texas-based Ultra Petroleum is losing its patience with Council for its slow movement toward approving rules.

After an initial vote to move forward with those rules, Council put off the required second vote until the new year, giving protesters more time and fodder to make their feelings known.

Meanwhile, we’re beginning to think that this Council will wait even more with the question of retail marijuana. It’s apparent that the Colorado Legislature, as mandated by Amendment 64, will set up the structure for licensing and regulating retail outlets for selling marijuana starting in 2014. But the amendment also gave local cities and counties the power, if they wished, to outlaw retail sales despite the voter approval that legalizes possession and individual cultivation of marijuana by anyone 21 or older.

Not surprisingly, that opening has inspired conservatives to action. Our own county commissioners, clearly feeling it’s a moral issue, already have voted to prohibit retail sales of marijuana in unincorporated areas — despite having previously allowed some dispensaries of medical marijuana.

As for Colorado Springs itself, despite the fact that most areas of the city did approve Amendment 64, don’t be surprised if this Council delays its vote until after the April municipal election. We could have anywhere up to six new councilors following that vote, and that revamped group might want to put its own stamp on marijuana sales anyway. Whether that increases the chances of sales not being allowed inside the city, we’ll have to see.

We think both extremes should calm down and, if possible, be a little more tolerant of the potential at stake. It’s obvious that the drilling companies will have to follow specific limitations, along with regular water testing, as they drill for oil or gas. Likewise, it’s clear that legalizing marijuana will not cause Colorado to lose its moral compass, and the result could mean millions in added tax revenue for a city as large as the Springs.

Obviously, opponents of drilling and marijuana will be turning up the volume, from the left and right. We believe the solutions for both should come from the majority in the middle.