Colorado Springs City Council narrowed its options in legislating retail sales of recreational marijuana to two: an outright ban or a moratorium of nine to 12 months.
But city residents will have to wait a few more weeks to learn the outcome. That’s because some Councilors making the decision aren’t talking — at least not yet.
Council can choose to allow different kinds of retail sales in the city limits: storefronts like the medical marijuana dispensaries, commercial grows to sell to storefronts, edible manufacturing and testing facilities that will certify potency of marijuana and related products. All but the testing facilities are currently allowed under medical marijuana regulations.
According to city attorney Kyle Sauer, the Council can choose none, all or any combination of the four.
So many options — how to regulate, whether to charge local licensing fees, whether to prohibit new stores and only allow medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana — led even those Councilors who approve of retail sales to say they’d agree to a moratorium beyond the scheduled effective date of Jan. 1.
Three Councilors gave a thumbs-up to approving retail sales. Three said absolutely not, and the other three refused to talk until the group’s July 23 meeting.
Still, they were able to give some direction to the city attorney’s office, including a moratorium to allow time to set up local regulations for retail outlets.
Among those in favor: Jan Martin and Jill Gaebler. Council President Keith King gave a conditional approval, based on tax revenue being enough to enforce regulations, which won’t be known until November elections. The state’s voters will be asked to approve an excise tax of 15 percent at the wholesale level and an additional 15 percent tax to state and local taxes.
Gaebler said she couldn’t ignore the outcome last November when the city approved Amendment 64.
“The voters sent a clear message. And we need to send them a message, that we heard them and we’re honoring their vote,” she said.
“I think we have the chance to do this in a thoughtful way, that maybe some of the other cities didn’t consider.”
But Merv Bennett said he would agree with the police chief, mayor, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and UCCS, all of whom oppose retail recreational sales in the city.
“We don’t want to be on the cutting edge of this,” he said. “It’s more like the bleeding edge. I worry about our military, about our economy.”
Martin dismissed those worries, saying she heard it all when the city considered medical marijuana.
“At first there were so many of them, but the market took care of it,” Martin said. “Within a very short time, there were just as many as were needed. I imagine we’ll see the same thing there.”
Councilor Joel Miller, a former Air Force officer, said he didn’t think opposing retail sales was opposing the will of the voter.
“The amendment clearly gives local municipalities the chance to opt out,” he said. “It’s not a states’ rights issue. … There’s precedent for the controlled substances act. Unless we want to throw out the whole act, we should follow federal law.”
King said, for him, it was about the will of the voters and the rights of states to pass laws that fit their population.
“I run a school,” he said. “And I don’t allow smoking there. We bring in dogs. That said, I think this is a states’ rights issue, and I want to respect the will of the voters. We had an election in November, and what they wanted was clear.”
The constituents in King’s district, he said, voted 60 percent in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Don Knight, who has three town hall meetings planned next week, said he felt stating his preference was a “de facto vote” that he wasn’t willing to make without constituent input.
“So I guess I’m abstaining,” he said.
Helen Collins, also a retired service member, said she had a timeline to decide — July 23. But she did address the worries over soldiers who might ruin careers by using marijuana.
“I would hope — and I’m a retired chief — that there would be some level of personal responsibility for enlisted soldiers,” she said. “They know it’s against federal law, and they know the consequences. It’s up to them to be responsible.”
Val Snider asked questions about business interests and federal funding, but also declined to say which way he was leaning.
When Council takes up marijuana July 23, the public will be allowed to speak.