The Colorado Springs City Council is one town hall meeting away from deciding whether the city should allow retail pot stores to open in the city.
The town hall forum, set for 4 p.m. Thursday, is expected to be standing-room-only as people for and against retail marijuana sales line up to share their opinions with the council.
"The purpose is to give city council the background it needs to make the decision and to give the public the opportunity to weigh in," said council member Jan Martin, who was on a council subcommittee that organized the town hall.
In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana possession and sales. The law allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. It also calls for regulating retail sales of marijuana, but it gives local governments the choice to opt out of such sales. Woodland Park, El Paso County and Monument, for example, have all said "no" to retail marijuana. Pueblo, meanwhile, put a moratorium on sales until the city council makes a permanent decision.
Colorado Springs City Council said it would like to decide by the end of July. The issue already has had input from Mayor Steve Bach, who wants the city to ban retail marijuana sales. He says selling marijuana for recreational use could put public safety in jeopardy and cause the city to lose out on jobs if companies don't feel comfortable relocating where pot is legal. Retired military officers also urged council to ban sales, saying retail marijuana would spell trouble for the area's military installations.
The council has heard equally from residents who insist the city must honor the voters of Colorado and regulate the sales of pot. They argue that the city should take control over the sales and not leave it to criminals, who don't follow state health codes and regulations.
It won't be the council's first marijuana rodeo. Hundreds of residents packed City Hall in 2010 in the days leading to the city's decision to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
"We do have some experience," Martin said.
The council invited about a dozen known opponents and proponents of retail marijuana sales from the military, businesses and medical marijuana dispensaries including retired Army general Ed Anderson, deputy police chief Vince Niski, and Mark Slaugh, owner of iComply to each give a 10-minute presentation at the town hall. The floor will then be open to anyone who wants to speak. Each person will be allowed three minutes.
Council is expected to vote on the issue at the July 23 meeting. If it votes to allow sales, it can regulate time, place and manner of sales and could choose to limit the number of retail shops. The city also could add a special marijuana sales tax.
In November, state voters will be asked to approve a 15 percent excise tax on retail marijuana and a 10 percent sales tax. Cities and counties that ban retail sales won't get any share of the state tax money if it is approved.
"Even if we opt in, we probably won't do anything until after the November election to see what happens with the tax," Martin said.
The City Council will host a town hall at 4 p.m. June 27 Thursday, City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave., to hear public input about retail marijuana sales inside the city limits. Members of the public will each be allowed three minutes to express their opinion.