Amendment 64 passed by just 10 votes in El Paso County in November, but neighborhood by neighborhood, the vote was anything but close. The center of Colorado Springs said yes to legalizing limited marijuana use by a strong margin, while suburbs and rural areas overwhelmingly said no, according to a Gazette precinct analysis of election results.
There are exceptions. Palmer Lake and Ramah, far from the city center, both voted for legalization. And some relatively affluent Colorado Springs neighborhoods, including Rockrimmon and Upper Skyway, voted against it. But in general, the nearer voters were to the urban core, the more likely they were to give marijuana the thumbs up.
“This isn’t a surprise at all,” said Rep. Pete Lee, whose House District 18 encompasses the neighborhoods downtown and on the west side that most strongly favored the amendment. “I walked my entire district this election season. In all those door knockings I got a clear sense they felt Amendment 64 was a rational approach. They seemed to think the existing laws on prohibition were a drain on resources that had little effect.”
Amendment 64 makes it legal for individuals age 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six marijuana plants, and allows for marijuana stores to begin setting up shop in January 2014. The amendment also includes a provision in which local governments can prohibit marijuana shops.
The voting pattern for marijuana mirrors that of the presidential election, where President Obama carried the center of town while Monument, Briargate, and other suburban areas went for Mitt Romney. There were notable outliers. The Air Force Academy, where Romney won handily, voted for marijuana, even though getting caught with pot in the military can garner a court martial.
Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, a group of medical marijuana business owners and advocates, said the voting pattern stems not from well-worn liberal and conservative voting patterns but from exposure to existing regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.
Colorado Springs has dozens of dispensaries, she said. “People here see that regulation works. We have proven ourselves. It made the concept less scary. People know legalizing marijuana won’t mean we’ll steal their children off the streets.”
Other parts of the county, however, have restricted dispensaries, she said, and voters there may have feared what legalization might bring.
Amy Lathen, El Paso County commission chairwoman and who represents the eastern El Paso County, said voters in her district were right to be wary.
She said she consistently heard from constituents who were against Amendment 64, which she also opposes.
“This law is so poorly written that all of the cost and logistics of it will just be kicked down to the local level,” Lathen said, adding it will mean more work and expenses for law enforcement in the county.
While there is nothing county commissioners can do to bar people from legally possessing marijuana once the law takes effect, Lathen said she will introduce an ordinance to ban retail sales, grow operations and manufacturing of marijuana products in unincorporated parts of the county.
The state legislature has yet to work out the details of regulating marijuana.
Lee said people who are concerned with the details of regulation should get involved in the rule-making process.
“I’d encourage citizens who have thoughts and ideas to participate,” he said. “The eyes of the nation and the world are on Colorado as we figure out how to regulate the legitimate recreational use of marijuana and the wisdom of the people is certainly a valued part of that.”
Contact Dave Philipps