June 12, 2014 Updated: June 12, 2014 at 12:47 pm
Voters in Colorado Springs could be asked in November if they want recreational marijuana sales in the city.
At a council work session this week, council member Jill Gaebler asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ask voters if the city should regulate marijuana sales in the same way it regulates alcohol sales. She asked that the ordinance include language that, if approved by voters, would direct the council to write rules and regulations by a certain date after the November election.
"For me, it's more about letting the people vote on this, something the state collectively agreed we should do," Gaebler said. "City Council didn't allow that voice to be heard a year ago."
Last summer, the council voted 5-4 to ban recreational marijuana sales in the city. Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in November 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana, and Colorado Springs voters approved the measure by 4,947 votes.
The state law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants on their property. The law also allows cities to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use like it does alcohol sales. But cities can opt out of the law.
Members of the grass-roots organization Every Vote Counts, which has asked the council for a ballot question, are excited that Colorado Springs voters may get a second chance to vote on the issue.
"I was pleasantly surprised that council member Gaebler was willing to take this forward and work with the city staff as we requested so the people's voice can be heard - 5,000 voices were unfairly silenced," said Mark Slaugh, chairman of Every Vote Counts.
Mayor Steve Bach said he would not support any move seeking approval to regulate recreational marijuana sales. He said marijuana sales for recreational use are not in the best interest of economic development and retaining military jobs in the city. He said he hopes the issue does not get muddled and confused.
"I would hope that if the City Council decides to take this to the voters that the question would be fair," Bach said. "I would appreciate seeing the ballot language to see that it is crystal clear on what voters are being asked to vote on."
This week, the state released its monthly sales tax report that said recreational marijuana sales were $22 million in April with about $3.5 million in taxes collected.
"The really big kicker here is that we could be getting tax money on that and we are not," said Lindsay Deen, secretary of Every Vote Counts. "Everybody on council will have to admit the truth - that we need the money."
The council will discuss the possible ballot language at its June 23 work session and could vote on the issue at its June 24 regular meeting. Any ballot question must be finalized by the end of summer and sent to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office, which needs final ballots completed by September, said Ryan Parsell, spokesman for the county clerk and recorder.
In April, four council members said they supported the idea of a citizen-driven law and would vote to put the question on the ballot; three council members said they would not vote to put the issue on the ballot, and two said they were undecided.
Council President Keith King said he would support putting the issue on the ballot, but he wants to have some rules, like how far a marijuana store can be from a school, included in the ballot language. He said he would want the question to be very specific.
Council member Val Snider, who was the deciding vote last summer to ban sales, said he is uncomfortable with the timeline and feels the issue is being ramrodded.
"It seems like this is being done spur of the moment," he said. "And, usually those things don't turn out very good."
Snider said he would prefer that citizens collect the necessary signatures to get the issue on the ballot. It would require at least 19,861 voter signatures - 20 percent of the 99,306 votes cast in the 2011 mayoral election.
When Palmer Lake residents were given a second chance to vote on recreational marijuana in April, voters turned it down even though they had approved Amendment 64. In Manitou Springs, the City Council in May approved a conditional use permit for its first retail marijuana shop, Maggie's Farm at 141 Manitou Ave. That shop could open by the end of June.
Gaebler said she has not polled the council and is unsure of the chances for getting the question on the November ballot. It would take five votes and it is an issue, by city charter, that the mayor cannot veto or block.
"My hope is they (the council members) believe that the people should have a voice on this issue at this point," she said. "That is an important factor."
HOW THEY VOTED IN JULY
Voted to ban: Val Snider, at-large; Joel Miller, District 2; Merv Bennett, at-large; Andy Pico, District 6; and Don Knight, District 1
Voted not to ban: Jan Martin, at-large; Jill Gaebler, District 5; Keith King, District 3; and Helen Collins, District 4.