Updated: April 18, 2014 at 7:36 am
It's anybody's guess whether the Colorado Springs City Council will put a question on the November ballot asking if residents want to allow recreational marijuana sales.
Members of a nonprofit group, Every Vote Counts, will begin lobbying this month for City Council's support to put a citizen-initiated ordinance question on the ballot.
Without seeing the proposed language, two council members said they support the idea of citizen-driven laws and would vote to put the question on the ballot. Three council members said they would not refer the issue to the ballot, and four said they need to see the language.
"I would want to see what the ballot initiative would do," said Val Snider, an at-large council member who was the council swing vote in July when it voted 5-4 to ban recreational sales.
Snider's vote came as a surprise to proponents who said they believed an at-large council member should represent constituents. In November 2012, Colorado Springs voters said "yes" to Amendment 64, a statewide initiative that allows cities to regulate sales of cannabis for recreational use. The state law also gives cities the option of banning sales.
At that time of the council vote, Snider said he was against recreational marijuana sales because of the number of uncertainties in the new state law.
Asked this week if he would vote to put a citizen-led ordinance on a ballot in November, Snider said he would have to see the language first.
"I would want to see in writing what they want on the ballot," he said. "I'm not buying wholesale into general recreational pot sales."
In July, Mayor Steve Bach said he would have vetoed a City Council ordinance allowing recreational sales. But when it comes to ballot questions, only the City Council can refer issues to the ballot.
Voters may see other citizen-led initiatives in November. A Citizen's Stormwater Advisory Group will ask El Paso County Commissioners to put a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve a stormwater fee to pay for millions in flood control projects across the region.
A draft of the citizen's proposed recreational marijuana ordinance is half a dozen pages long. It would ask voters to reaffirm their vote on Amendment 64 and ask for voters to approve a long list of provisions, including rules about licenses, restrictions about what marijuana products can be sold and a call for public hearings about every proposed marijuana store.
Lindsay Deen, secretary of Every Vote Counts, said she hopes council members will hear the group's proposal before shutting it down. The proposed ordinance includes a provision that retail marijuana stores must be 1,000 feet from schools and 2,000 feet from military bases.
"I'd consider it," said council member Helen Collins, who represents District 4 in southeast Colorado Springs. "The southeast voted for Amendment 64."
Council member Jan Martin said she looks forward to working with the group to draft the ballot language.
"That's always the best approach," she said. "Anytime someone wants to bring something like this forward, it's always best to work with council beforehand."
The proposed ordinance has built-in flexibility for the city when it comes to developing administrative rules, said Mark Slaugh, president of Every Vote Counts.
The risk for the City Council, he said, is if it does not refer the citizen-led ordinance to the ballot, citizens could collect at least 19,861 voter signatures - 20 percent of the 99,306 votes cast in the 2011 mayoral election - and get the question on the ballot without city council approval.
"Once it's on the ballot, the language is locked in," he said.
Council member Andy Pico said citizens have the right to collect the necessary signatures to get an ordinance on the ballot. But he won't vote to put recreational cannabis sales on the ballot.
"I can't envision myself doing that," he said.
Council member Merv Bennett agrees with Pico. He voted in July to ban recreational marijuana sales in the Springs. He said then that he worried about pot becoming more accessible to children and about the negative effect on the military community, which makes up about 40 percent of the local economy. He said he won't vote to put recreational marijuana sales on the ballot because it would give the impression that he favors marijuana sales.
"If (Bennett) voted to put it on the ballot, that might give the impression that he listens to his constituents," Slaugh said. "Why would he oppose giving people a chance?"
Manitou Springs is the only municipality in the county allowing recreational sales. Palmer Lake residents petitioned the issue on to the ballot, and it failed this month.