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VIDEO: Colorado Springs chooses to ban retail marijuana sales

July 23, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013 at 8:40 am
Caption +
President of the UCCS chapter of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Meral Sarper, center, leads a chant with other supporters of Amendment 64 outside City Hall Tuesday, July 23, 2013 where the City Council is expected to vote on whether they will ban the retail sale of marijuana for recreational use or delay sales until November when voters can decide to tax the sale of pot. Mayor Steve Bach has indicated that he will veto any action by the City Council that will allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

A stunned crowd sat silent for a moment Tuesday after the 5-4 vote to ban retail marijuana sales in Colorado Springs was read into the record.

"The city has opted out," Council President Keith King said at the city council meeting, which was packed with people who testified during a nearly two-hour public hearing.

About 50 proponents of retail sales stormed out, with someone angrily yelling, "I hope you're happy."

The decision came down to council member Val Snider, who was the swing vote to ban retail marijuana sales in the city - a surprise to proponents of Amendment 64. Snider had kept his views on the issue close to the vest over the past months and during recent public hearings.

Snider, an at-large city council member, said he could not reconcile the conflict of allowing retail pot sales with federal law, which lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. He also said allowing pot to be sold over the counter would send the wrong message to youth.

"Bottom line, I'm not convinced we need to make it more accessible," he said.

Colorado voters in November approved Amendment 64, which allows adults over 21 to possess one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The law also allows stores to sell marijuana and other products made with marijuana, with a city's approval. Already more than 20 Colorado cities and towns - including Woodland Park, Green Mountain Falls and Castle Rock - have opted not to allow such sales.

There was plenty of pressure on Colorado Springs from both sides on the issue.

In recent months, the Council heard from members of the Regional Business Alliance, retired military generals, school superintendents, leaders from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and representatives from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau - all who urged the council to ban retail marijuana sales.

Mayor Steve Bach, who had promised to veto any ordinance that would have allowed retail marijuana sales, spoke to the council Tuesday and said he believed marijuana sales would be a job-killer. He left before a vote was taken.

Council members Jan Martin and Jill Gaebler disagreed with Bach, saying retail marijuana stores would create jobs.

"We want to bring economic development to this city - we can do that by having a vibrant downtown," Gaebler said. "The younger generation has a vision of what the city should look like. We can do something different and special."

Martin said she could not imagine making a decision that went against the voters of Colorado and Colorado Springs. She said Colorado Springs had an opportunity to be a leader.

"We did it with medical marijuana - cities all over the state look to us and our regulations," she said.

Outside council chambers, proponents of Amendment 64 stood disappointed. They had rallied outside City Hall with signs and chants and they gave passionate testimony, often quoting historic figures on the Constitution and citizen rights. But it wasn't enough to sway five council members.

"To see two at-large council members throw the vote of the community under the bus, I'm disappointed and angry," said Mark Slaugh, owner of iComply, a business that helps medical marijuana dispensaries follow state regulations.

Slaugh said the ban meant lost jobs and lost taxes for the city.

"It means we maintain the status quo, which hasn't been the greatest image from the outside looking in," he said.

Jo McGuire, a member of Smart Colorado, a statewide organization that seeks to restrict retail marijuana sales and ensure that taxes on them cover the costs to regulate and enforce the law, wiped tears from her eyes and said she was proud of council members. She told them she knew what drugs could do to a young person. Her son became addicted to marijuana and now is homeless.

"I'm very proud of the city council. I think they did something very courageous," she said. "They did something that is in the best interests of the community."

Even though people won't be able to buy pot for recreational use in licensed stores inside the city limits, they can still possess it legally under Amendment 64 and even grow up to six plants in an enclosed locked space.

Shaking off the sting of the vote, some proponents of Amendment 64 said they won't let the issue die. They could force it to a ballot in November 2014, which is allowed under the state law, said Jason Warf, legislative director for Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council.

"The city has woken a sleeping giant," he said. "I think we will see a lot of citizens up in arms. Going against the will of the voters, no matter what the subject, is never a big hit."

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