If Colorado Springs allows retail sales of marijuana, public safety could be in jeopardy, children's health might be at risk and the city could lose out on jobs, Mayor Steve Bach told the City Council on Tuesday.
Recreational marijuana use has been on Bach's mind for months. It's a topic he has discussed in recent town hall meetings, and he told the council that too much is at stake to allow retail sales: He is worried about increased crime. He's also concerned about children's access to the drug, saying young people who smoke pot are at risk of permanently losing their memory. And equally important, he said, is the risk that businesses - including Department of Defense contractors - won't want to relocate here.
"It is essential that we send a message to primary employers that we are not going to allow this," Bach told the council.
Bach was among a group of heavy hitters, including four retired generals, the vice chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the president of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, who asked the council to ban retail sales of marijuana for the good of the community.
Bach pleaded his case on the same day that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed several marijuana regulations into law. As part of the deal on pot, though, communities can opt out of retail sales, and as such, El Paso County and other Colorado cities already have decided to ban them.
The public comment portion of Tuesday's City Council meeting, where residents are allowed to speak on any topic for up to 3 minutes, turned into a mini-hearing on the pros and cons of retail marijuana sales. About two dozen people spoke.
In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows retail sales of marijuana to begin in January 2014. Opting out of retail marijuana sales would not affect the existing medical marijuana dispensaries, Bach said, nor would it affect the law that allows anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
"What you would do by opting out is be following El Paso County and Monument in banning retail sales," he said.
Council members did not respond to the comments or share their opinions because it was not on their agenda. The council will hold a public hearing on the issue at 1 p.m. June 27.
Meanwhile, four retired generals told the council that allowing businesses to sell pot would severely impact area military installations. Young military personnel would be tempted to use marijuana, even though they are prohibited to use it under military law, they said.
It could create a lot of trouble for commanders, and such issues are considered when Congress is deciding which bases to close and which bases to grow under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, they said.
Retired Air Force Gen. Gary Dylewski said he understands that state law says marijuana sales ought to be treated like alcohol sales, but he worries about troops returning from war. So many veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) already are struggling with substance abuse, he said.
"Why would you want to double down on that issue?" he said.
Marijuana sales already are happening, said Ashley Knutson, owner of The Herb Shoppe Medical Center, who urged the council to allow sales. The question, she said, is whether the city will regulate it. A quick search on Craigslist finds all sorts of marijuana sales, she said. But the city is not collecting any tax money from those sales.
"Having cannabis sales out of sight does not benefit the community or make it safer," she said. "The city of Colorado Springs has been tasked with a choice. With your decision you will determine the fate of legitimate small businesses and the black market. With your decision you will empower one and weaken the other."
Resident KC Stark said the city developed the most responsible regulations for medical marijuana in the country and can do the same for retail marijuana sales. And, he added, voters want it.
"The majority of Americans in Colorado Springs and Manitou voted to treat cannabis like alcohol, period," he said.
But out-of-state businesses may not agree with Colorado voters, said Joe Raso, president and CEO of Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.
He said job creation already is in danger.
After Amendment 64 was approved by Colorado voters, businesses that were looking to the state and the Springs expressed concerns about how the law would affect their workforce.
The business alliance, which represents local businesses, opposed Amendment 64, he said. And the business alliance is particularly concerned about the military and defense contractors, which make up about 40 percent of the local economy.
- The Colorado Springs City Council will have a public hearing from 1 to 4 p.m. June 27 in council chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave., to discuss whether the city should allow retail marijuana sales.
- The council will have a work session on the issue July 8 and could vote on the issue July 23.