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Colorado Springs council gets earful on pros, cons of retail marijuana sales

June 28, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Each speaker who stood at the podium in City Hall on Thursday made a compelling argument about potential retail marijuana sales in Colorado Springs.

Selling marijuana in retail stores could lead to more traffic crashes and fatalities, said Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey.

On the other hand, selling marijuana could boost the economy with jobs and sales tax revenue. For every point there was a counterpoint as residents in a standing-room only hall waited patiently to speak.

"The black market has no rules, no regulations," said Don McKay, co-owner of Southern Colorado Medical Marijuana. "Marijuana comes across the border in bales but the money goes back across in shoe boxes. If we regulate, we can define the rules, say where the stores will be, who sells it, and generate jobs for local residents."

Colorado Springs City Council hosted a town hall meeting to talk about pot and about 60 people signed up to speak. But first the council heard from 19 community leaders, who spoke for more than two hours on the pros and cons of opening marijuana stores in the city.

Council member Jan Martin said the council had no preconceived conclusions about whether to allow or ban sales of recreational marijuana and wanted to hear from citizens before deciding. The council is expected to make a decision on the issue on July 23.

There are many things to consider, said Rachel Allen, attorney for the Colorado Municipal League. First there is a strict timeline the state law laid down, including an upcoming Oct. 1 deadline when cities must decide whether they will allow retail marijuana sales or not.

To date, 34 Colorado cities and counties have banned retail marijuana sales; 25 cities or counties have put a moratorium on sales and will take action at a later date, she said.

"I don't think people approve something because they want you to ban it," said former city council member Sean Paige, who urged the council to allow sales and regulate the new industry.

In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana possession and sales. Voters said they want to regulate retail marijuana sales like alcohol. But the law also says local governments can opt out of retail sales.

Marijuana is a scary proposition for many citizens, Paige said. He was on council when it faced regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

"People told us all hell was going to break loose if we didn't ban (medical) marijuana outright," Paige said.

Instead the council regulated medical marijuana and now there are about 90 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

"All the scary things did not come to pass," he said.

But retail marijuana sales for anyone over age 21 is different. No military officer wants to see young soldiers or airmen kicked out of the military over smoking a joint they bought at the corner store, retired military officers said.

"Voters gave our community the option to opt out," said Don Kidd, from the Military Affairs Council.

Kidd said local military leaders believe retail marijuana sales could create disciplinary problems among the troops. And that is a discriminating point that would be considered if the Department of Defense was looking at base closures, he said.

Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the NAACP Colorado/Montana/Wyoming State Conference, had a different view of how marijuana affects young people. It's a civil rights issue and NAACP endorsed Amendment 64, "because of the impact of incarceration on young men and women of color," she said. "We know from our research that possessing a joint has great impact on the lives of young people."

She asked council to move forward on regulating marijuana sales.

The state Department of Revenue is expected to release its rules and regulations next week and then begin accepting applications for retail marijuana stores after Oct. 1, Allen said. The first retail marijuana store in the state could be open by Jan. 1, 2014.

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