February 11, 2014 Updated: February 12, 2014 at 11:18 am
With little discussion, the Colorado Springs City Council approved a pair of laws Tuesday that reduce the penalties for people who bring pot into city facilities, including the airport.
The fines were lowered from as much as $2,500 to no more than $100, and jail time and drug charges were eliminated.
Still, some residents questioned why the council would enforce any penalty for possession of marijuana in a state where it is legal. Further, 1,500 patients in El Paso County use medical marijuana, said resident Bob Wiley. He said medical marijuana card holders should not have to give up their medication if they enter city buildings.
"Who is bringing this ordinance forward? Why are we doing this? Is there a rash of marijuana offenses that says we need to do this?" Wiley asked.
Deputy city attorney Britt Haley said the city operates under a federal drug-free workplace, which is directly tied to receiving federal grants. City employees cannot bring drugs or alcohol into city buildings, she said. The ordinance makes the rule equitable to city employees and to the visiting public.
The Colorado Springs Airport also must comply with federal law. Pot is an illegal controlled substance under federal law and cannot be taken on commercial aircraft.
The ordinances, Haley said, are to comply with federal rules.
But some council members did not want stiff fines and drug charges to be leveled against residents for possession of 1 ounce or less of pot in city facilities. The ordinance defines city facilities as any enclosed building, structure or facility owned or leased by the city. That includes restrooms in the parks and the enclosed offices of the city's parking garages.
Under the new city ordinance, residents who bring pot into city facilities will be asked to take it out or turn it in. If people refuse or try to sneak it in after being warned, they would face a trespassing charge, confiscation of the pot and up to a $100 fine on first offense and up to $500 on second offense.
At the airport, passengers could take their pot out to their vehicle or drop it into an "amnesty box" before boarding a plane with no questions asked. Refusal also results in a trespassing charge.
The city will post signs in its public buildings warning visitors that possession of marijuana in those facilities is banned, similar to signs that warn that it is illegal to carry a firearm at the airport or in city facilities.
Resident Mark Slaugh said residents in possession of 1 ounce of marijuana who go into a public restroom in a city park should not be penalized.
"We are talking about the government's ability to take someone's personal property," Slaugh said. "The reality is someone shouldn't have the right to confiscate personal property."
Council members Helen Collins, Andy Pico and Joel Miller voted against the ordinance related to city buildings. Collins also voted against the ordinance related to the city's airport.
In other business, the City Council denied the appeal of Flying Horse residents who were fighting a 7-Eleven store and a right-in/right-out turn lane off Northgate Boulevard in their neighborhood.
Explaining his vote to deny the appeal, Councilman Val Snider said the Flying Horse plan for a 15-acre commercial development meets the city's master plan, zoning rules and has been approved.
The original Flying Horse Master Plan was approved in 2001. All along it was a "community commercial" plan with the idea of convenience and service shopping.
But Flying Horse residents objected to the 7-Eleven store, saying it was too close to a neighborhood park and did not fit the character of the neighborhood. They also said they worried about increased crime and traffic congestion.
The 7-Eleven store is part of 200,000 square feet of commercial development planned at Northgate and Roller Coaster Road.
In April, the council approved a zone change and a concept plan that allows the 7-Eleven.
In December, the Planning Commission approved the right-in/right-out turn lane off Northgate, which gives the 7-Eleven store easy access. Developers argued that the right-in/right-out turn on Northgate would help keep traffic off Roller Coaster Road, which is closer to the neighborhood park.
Residents came Tuesday armed with PowerPoint presentations, traffic studies, maps and video clips from past Planning Commission meetings to make their appeal. They said the turn lane on Northgate is dangerous. Further, they said it goes against the city's traffic rules of right-in/right-out lanes on an arterial roads.
In the end, the council voted to deny both appeals.