Colorado Springs groups plan push to overturn council ban on recreational marijuana sales

By Monica Mendoza Updated: November 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm • Published: November 13, 2013 | 7:15 pm 0

A grassroots effort has begun to overturn a Colorado Springs' city ordinance banning retail recreational marijuana sales.

A citizen group, Every Vote Counts, will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss strategy on how Colorado Springs could regulate retail cannabis sales - and the group has its eye on the November 2014 ballot, said Meral Sarper, a member of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The student group is working with Every Vote Counts to raise money for its planned campaign.

The group has ideas for ballot language and possible regulations but wants citizen input before finalizing it, Sarper said.

"It's about having people feel educated instead of angry and confused after last July's vote," Sarper said.

She was among 50 residents who spoke to City Council in July in favor of Colorado Springs regulating pot sales the same way as alcohol. City Council, however, voted 5-4 to ban retail recreational marijuana sales.

Residents vowed then to overturn council's decision saying it did not represent the voters. Colorado voters in November approved Amendment 64, which allows adults over 21 to possess 1 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. El Paso County voters voted narrowly in favor of Amendment 64; Colorado Springs voters approved Amendment 64 by 4,947 votes.

City Council's rejection of retail marijuana sales left citizens with only one option - putting a citizen initiative on the ballot, said Mark Slaugh, Every Vote Counts executive director.

"I think it really is a question of whether elected officials are going to respect the voters," Slaugh said.

Ideally, the City Council will reverse its decision and put the issue to voters in April, Slaugh said. But that does not seem likely. Retired military officers, UCCS administrators and local business leaders spoke against retail marijuana sales, saying it could jeopardize military and defense contracting, which represents about 40 percent of the local economy.

Across the state, about 50 cities have banned retail recreational marijuana sales. This week, residents opposed to retail marijuana sales in Manitou Springs said the town had worked too hard over the last decade to shed an image of drug use to throw it all away. The meeting, which drew about 200 citizens, came a week after Manitou residents voted in favor of taxing retail pot sales if the city council were to approve them. Manitou City Council have more discussion before making a final decision, Mayor Marc Snyder said.

Maybe Colorado Springs residents could live with the City Council's ban if residents had rejected the Amendment 64 issue, said Raul Perez, a UCCS graduate student with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

"The biggest thing is to get the discussion going with business owners, citizens, students - everybody," he said. "We voted for 64 and we feel we should get the retail stores."

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