The year’s most overblown story

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One month ago, the most controversial new business of 2014 in El Paso County opened its doors to overflow crowds. Naysayers had insisted the business would cause a major disruption to the area and perhaps even affect the future of our military presence in the Pikes Peak region.

We’re talking about Maggie’s Farm, already established locally with several medical marijuana dispensaries, opening the county’s first retail marijuana store in Manitou Springs.

After the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, legalizing possession of marijuana in Colorado and setting up the framework for retail sales, elected leaders of Colorado Springs and El Paso County jumped at the chance to opt out of allowing retail stores.

Manitou Springs became the lone ranger after its residents voted convincingly in 2013 to approve a local tax for retail marijuana. Manitou’s City Council voted in January to allow retail stores, but with restrictions — not in the historic downtown area, nowhere close to schools, and starting only with businesses already licensed for medical marijuana.

Maggie’s Farm made it through the process first, then opened on July 31. Colorado Springs and county officials, fearing the worst, pleaded with Manitou to hold off. Also, there was enough opposition inside Manitou that a petition drive led to a question for the town’s voters on the upcoming election ballot on whether to shut down retail marijuana operations.

But the reality hasn’t matched up with the retail marijuana opponents’ fears. From the start, when the Maggie’s Farm parking lot filled, cars were directed to a nearby lot. Dozens of customers have waited outside the store on many days, even in the rain, because only so many can go inside at a time. But all that has happened without a single major incident.

Clearly, the presence of a retail marijuana store in our midst has not caused a terrible impact. In fact, many visitors probably have driven past it without even noticing. And everyone has to show proof of being 21 or older to go inside, so that’s not an issue. Manitou also hasn’t seen an increase in citations for using marijuana in public (still against the law).

There’s another apparent effect, and it’s positive. Several other Manitou businesses reported an increase in customers and sales that first weekend when the retail store opened, which has continued through August. Already, it had been a solid summer for the Manitou economy, with June sales tax revenue up 9.4 percent over a year ago. By all accounts, July was even better — before Maggie’s Farm opened.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean the spirited debate will go away. Though legal inside the state, dispensaries still can’t deal with financial institutions. And many people still believe it was wrong for Colorado to permit use and sale of the substance.

But the state’s voters did pass Amendment 64, and now we’re hearing concerns have faded about the Pentagon reacting in a negative way.

Meanwhile, we also hear the Legislature might take a closer look, perhaps taxing medical marijuana more and retail less because of the large price differences. And closer to home, once again the Colorado Springs City Council is considering whether to allow a ballot issue in April 2015 that would allow retail marijuana to be sold inside the city.

That tells us more people are realizing what Denver and Pueblo already knew, and Manitou Springs has learned.

Retail marijuana simply is not that big a deal. In fact, it’s arguably the most overblown story of 2014.