City says no to selling rec pot; ballot coming?

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This time the pro-marijuana side lost a crucial battle. But that doesn’t mean the war is over regarding recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs.

By a narrow 5-4 margin, the City Council voted Tuesday afternoon to ban retail sales and cultivation of marijuana within the city limits.

The city joins Woodland Park, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and El Paso County (for unincorporated areas) in taking advantage of the “opt out” provision incorporated in Amendment 64, which legalized the possession and sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado.

The opt-out majority included Councilors Don Knight, Andy Pico, Merv Bennett, Joel Miller and Val Snider. Council President Keith King was joined in the minority by Jill Gaebler, Helen Collins and Jan Martin.

Had the opt-out ordinance failed, Council would have considered a moratorium, delaying the issue.

After the decision, Amendment 64 advocates promised they would not go away.

“We’re going to put an initiative on the ballot,” confirmed Tanya Garduno, who heads the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council. “We have no choice.”

She noted that competition from retail marijuana providers in Denver and Pueblo will be damaging, and that existing medical marijuana centers will have to leave town to grow their businesses.

“We want to be on the ballot this November,” she said, “when the marijuana tax will be there.”

Prior to Tuesday’s action, more than 40 people came to the podium to support or oppose the opt-out proposal. First at the podium: Mayor Steve Bach, who urged Council to adopt the ban.

“This issue has nothing to do with medical marijuana,” Bach said, “and it has nothing to do with private use of marijuana, as permitted under Amendment 64. This has to do with whether Colorado Springs will promote the sale of recreational marijuana. And despite my lifelong promotion of liberty, I’m concerned that this is a job killer.”

Bach also stressed the need for regional solidarity.

“We need to cooperate with our neighbors,” he continued. “You’ve talked about a regional solution for stormwater, so we can stand with our neighbors on this.”

Retired Army Gen. Ed Anderson echoed Bach. Reiterating concerns that he has voiced for several months, Anderson predicted that permitting retail sales in Colorado Springs might cause the Department of Defense to reappraise its commitment to the area.

“The immediate consequences will be the impact on commanders who are charged with maintaining good order and discipline,” Anderson said. “In the context of the future, DoD will downsize through BRAC (Base realignment and closure process). They will consider the local environment, and the approval of retail marijuana by the city government will be a significant impact.”

In fact, any such impact wouldn’t be felt until 2019 at the earliest, since Congress has removed BRAC from consideration for 2015 and 2017.

While several subsequent speakers supported Bach and Anderson, including Harrison School District 2 Superintendent Lawrence Martinez and UCCS Vice Chancellor Brian Burnett, most did not.

Rick Wyeth, a war veteran who said he has post-traumatic stress disorder, noted that he uses marijuana to alleviate his condition.

“These bases aren’t going away,” he said. “Opt in or opt out, it doesn’t matter. I use marijuana, and it’s an asset.”

Others, including Ingrid Henderson and KC Stark, said that regulated and taxed retail marijuana would tend to suppress street sales, and make marijuana less available to minors.

“People are going to smoke regardless,” said Henderson. “It helps people, alcohol kills people, and the city will make tax dollars — so why not regulate?”

“A vote to opt out is a vote for the black market,” said Stark, who then quoted Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

Lorena Townsend suggested that Bach ought to hang out with the big boys.

“Why not follow our neighbors to the north?” she asked. “Why not Denver and Boulder, instead of Woodland Park and Fountain?”

Some speakers spoke of “75 years of Reefer Madness,” referring to the much-derided 1936 anti-marijuana film.

“Opponents of retail marijuana are using the language of drug prohibition,” said Mark Slaugh, the CEO of iComply, a local firm that specializes in cannabis regulatory affairs. Noting that anti-cannabis arguments of the past have long been discredited, Slaugh suggested that the city move forward.

“Heaven forbid that Colorado Springs be considered a cool city!”

But perhaps the most telling argument against opting out came from Bob Wiley, one of Amendment 64’s authors.

“The opt-out clause was intended for jurisdictions where citizens voted against it,” he said. “The citizens of Colorado Springs voted for it.”

In the end, the arguments of the 20- and 30-something supporters of retail marijuana cut no ice with the Council majority.

“We’ve heard from many people who are concerned about retail marijuana,” Councilor Bennett said, making the motion to opt out. “Active duty and retired military officers, the University of Colorado, the Regional Business Alliance, officials from school districts, Mayor Bach and many others.”

Jan Martin didn’t agree.

“No. 1 on my list is how the voters voted here,” she said. “I think we have an opportunity to lead, as we did with medical marijuana. We have spent my lifetime fighting marijuana, but it’s time to move forward. Younger people aren’t threatened by retail marijuana — they actually look forward to it.”

Air Force retiree Andy Pico sided with Bennett.

“The military is mobile,” he said. “I’ve seen headquarters move overnight. Cheyenne Mountain and Schriever will stay, but everything else is on the table, including Fort Carson.”

King, citing a pre-election pledge to honor the wishes of his District 3 voters, who voted 60-40 in favor of Amendment 64, used that to explain his vote. The swing vote was Snider, an at-large councilor who decided to opt out.

Disgruntled marijuana supporters responded to the vote with scattered boos and catcalls, but the crowd was generally quiet and orderly.