City Council will likely decide this week on whether to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana, and the related grow operations, within our city. This is a big decision and inflection point for Colorado Springs.
We are beginning to hear positive news about the economy. Unemployment is beginning to improve, jobs are being created by new companies that have relocated to the Springs, and many current local employers indicate they will be hiring thousands of new workers in the next year or so. A new generation of civic and business leaders are beginning to emerge, driving a new commitment to strengthening our economic and cultural base. After two devastating fires in a year, the resolve and character of our community was on display in the swift and brave actions of our first responders, including city, county and military personnel. Those who lost so much were comforted and aided through the efforts of neighbors and our world class nonprofit sector. Local businesses pitched in to help as well. A renewed sense of community pride abounds, the future is ours to create and prospects are bright.
So the decision being made this week is not just about selling marijuana openly at retail stores, it is about the type of community and culture we want to create. It is about the “brand” for Colorado Springs going forward. Will it be a brand that further enables the current positive trends or one that creates questions about our city to tourists thinking about where to vacation, businesses wondering if they should locate here, or current business and military installations that might expand or contract based on local market conditions?
And make no mistake, our state brand is already being effected by earlier changes in state law. In 2012, seizures of pot grown and packaged in Colorado — some 7,200 pounds of dope — surfaced in neighboring states, making Colorado a huge and illegal exporter of pot.
So today is decision day for City Council, a group that by all accounts is among the most engaged and hard-working councils ever. There can be only one objective in this decision, and that is to make a choice that is the best for the future health and welfare of our city. So as council members carefully considers the facts in this case, we urge them to consider the following: Who is standing up to oppose retail sales and grow operations, and who is standing up for them?
A partial list of local organizations and employers opposing commercial operations includes the following: our largest health care employers; aerospace and manufacturing sectors; city government; education leaders; the largest religious groups; key foundations; other key business sectors and all military operations. Here’s who we know of lining up in favor commercial operations: Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana. The number of employees, current and future jobs represented by the opposition has to be 100 times larger than those represented by proponents. The weight of this comparison is clear and the distinction between the two lists is stark. Seems like a no-brainer, except to some who point to voter counts on Amendment 64 as an indicator of how City Council should vote.
The people voted, on Amendment 64, to legalize the personal possession, consumption and ability to grow small amounts for personal pot use. Essentially it was a decriminalization bill adopted out of frustration with a policy that did not prevent black market and other illegal operations — like what is going on now with the exporting of pot grown in our state.
Amendment 64 also called for local governments to decide on whether they would like to sell recreational marijuana and allow for the large grow operations that support them. This was specifically approved for local entities to decide what is best for them with regards to this last, important element.
It is time for City Council to decide on our future with their decision on this very important issue. The downside of approving retail sales is clear and large. All those organizations lining up against assure us of the negative impact on our city. The projected upside? Estimates of net tax revenues — or revenues minus the expense of regulation, public safety and health — range from negative numbers to a high of $3 million dollars, or a little over 1 percent of our city’s general fund budget of $223 million.
So it’s time to weigh the information and vote for the best choice to achieve the objective: making our city a vibrant, growing and world class place to live and work.