Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Colorado Springs council to hear ins and outs of retail recreational pot sales

By Monica Mendoza Published: May 10, 2013

The Colorado Springs City Council will be briefed Monday on the ins and outs of retail marijuana as a first step toward deciding whether the city will allow or prohibit retail marijuana sales.

Council members will not make any decisions Monday about retail marijuana sales, but they are expected to give direction on a public process for evaluating the city's options.

Opponents and proponents are launching grass-roots campaigns to rally their troops in preparation of eventually making a case to the City Council in public hearings.

'We don't want to open the floodgates into our community to where we are putting this in the hands of kids, ' said Jo McGuire, a member of Smart Colorado, a statewide organization that seeks to restrict retail marijuana sales and ensure that taxes on them fully cover the costs to regulate and enforce the law.

But opting out means there would be no regulations on marijuana sales and that could fuel a black market for marijuana, one that is difficult to police and provides zero revenue to the city coffers, said Mark Slaugh, director of membership for the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council.

Both groups intend to meet with council members in the coming months.

Marijuana has been a statewide hot topic since November when voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana possession and sales. Under the state law, beginning in January, possession and consumption of up to an ounce of marijuana is legal for those 21 and older and individuals can grow up to six marijuana plants.

But under state law, local governments don't have to allow retail sales - they can opt out. In January, El Paso County commissioners banned retail recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of the county.

If the city allows retail marijuana sales, it could charge application fees, licensing fees and possibly operating fees, Slaugh said. Opting in gives the city control over marijuana sales, he said. There would be background checks and labeling requirements.

And schools would benefit, Slaugh said. Colorado voters will be asked in November to approve a 15 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales for schools and a 10 percent state tax to cover the cost to regulate its sales.

'The consequences of opting out are more detrimental than opting in, ' Slaugh said.

McGuire argues that the city should take time to examine how regulations will play out before opting in. The city can start with heavy restrictions on retail sales, but it cannot start with loose restrictions and then try to tighten them, she said. That opens the city up to lawsuits.

'We can put up strong boundaries now, and we can relax them later, ' she said.

The city could have opted out of medical marijuana dispensaries and nearly did. Instead, the city came up with a licensing and fees structure for the dispensaries. Now, there are about 80 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Last year, the city collected $989,351 in sales and use tax on medical marijuana - about a 40 percent increase over 2011.

'Our City Council has to figure out the good and bad points, and if they get it wrong, they could create a tailspin in the opposite direction of what voters wanted, ' Slaugh said. 'If they do it right, they regulate it, tax it and control it. '

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