January 7, 2014 Updated: January 8, 2014 at 5:04 pm
Manitou Springs is just one step away from allowing recreational marijuana sales.
The city council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to amend the town’s municipal code and allow two retail marijuana stores to operate within the city limits. They would be the first — and possibly only — retail pot shops in El Paso County if the council again gives its approval Jan. 21, when a final vote on the ordinance is scheduled.
To date, no other local jurisdiction — including Colorado Springs — has allowed such sales.
Recreational sales became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, and stores across the state — most of them in Denver — garnered worldwide media attention as they opened to crowds of people eager to buy pot legally.
The decision in Manitou Springs — with the lone dissenting vote cast by Councilman Gary Smith — comes after months of debate between public officials and residents about selling pot in the town of about 5,200 people at the foot of Pikes Peak. Multiple public hearings were held by the city in September and November to allow people to air concerns or support for marijuana stores.
The discussions came after Amendment 64 was approved by Coloradans in November 2012. Sixty-eight percent of Manitou Springs voters supported the amendment, which legalized marijuana and allows limited possession by people 21 years and older.
The measure also passed in Colorado Springs, but the city and county both opted out of allowing retail pot sales.
Manitou Springs officials voted on Sept. 3 to delay its decision on retail marijuana in order to “draft and finalize regulations for retail pot shops,” Mayor Marc Snyder said in December, when the council voted 6-0 to extend that moratorium through January.
Snyder said he was glad Manitou took its time on the issue. “I’m happy we weren’t part of the first wave,” he said of the Jan. 1 sales that occurred elsewhere in the state. “There are always unforeseen circumstances that arise.”
Before the vote, a few residents spoke passionately against the ordinance, some even “begging” the council to slow down the process and put off a decision even longer.
Councilman Kevin MacDonald, though, said a committee has done much work on the issue since November. “We put so much into this regulation to make sure everyone is as comfortable as they can possibly be,” he said.
While the final guidelines passed Tuesday night authorize retail marijuana stores and testing facilities in the commercial district of Manitou Springs — mostly the area east of City Hall on Manitou Avenue — it prohibits pot manufacturing or cultivating facilities.
Current medical marijuana licensees will be able to apply before July 1 in order to convert their businesses into a “dual operation.”
The retail stores will be allowed to be open seven days a week, but will be restricted to business hours between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Only those 21 and older will be allowed in the stores. As elsewhere in the state, Colorado residents will be able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana, while out-of-state residents will be limited to ¼ ounce during a single sales transaction.
The city has outlined restrictions that will prohibit pot stores from being 500 feet from schools or alcohol or drug rehab facilities. In addition, they can’t be located in buildings with residential units or on city-owned property.
The amendment that passed Tuesday night also states that public use of marijuana will remain illegal within Manitou Springs city limits, and the use of pot at retail stores also will be prohibited.
Manitou Springs officials also acknowledged in early fall of 2013 that there could be potential tax revenues for the city, but Mayor Snyder said Tuesday that potential tax revenues are “too speculative” and are not part of the 2014 budget.
During the Nov. 5, 2013, election, town voters approved an initial 5 percent sales tax on retail pot sales. That number could be boosted to a maximum of 10 percent, the ballot question said.
Manitou is the only El Paso County municipality to date to move toward retail marijuana sales. Palmer Lake residents will vote in April on whether to allow pot sales in their northern El Paso County town.