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Manitou Springs votes to OK retail marijuana shops, but not in downtown district

By: matt steiner
January 21, 2014 Updated: January 22, 2014 at 11:24 am
Caption +
Downtown Manitou Springs Wednesday, September 4, 2013. (Mark Reis, Gazette file)

It's official: Recreational pot will be sold in Manitou Springs.

The city council voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to allow retail marijuana stores, becoming the first town in El Paso County to do so.

"We are here tonight because the war on drugs is a failure," said Mayor Pro Tem Coreen Toll.

Sales will be limited to just two shops, neither which will be allowed in the downtown district.

Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder estimates the earliest that sales could occur would be in April but added, "that's really a moving target."

City officials had said prior to Tuesday's vote that they wanted to support the will of town voters; 68 percent supported Amendment 64, which legalized possession and cultivation of pot. The amendment, passed in November 2012, allows people 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or to grow up to six pot plants for personal use.

Other pot merchants across Colorado - most of them in the Denver area - opened their doors Jan. 1, when recreational marijuana sales became legal. The city of Colorado Springs and other communities in the Pikes Peak region, however, banned the retail shops; Amendment 64 gave individual municipalities the power to make their own decisions on whether to allow retail pot.

Seventeen people - 10 in favor of retail sales - spoke during the public comment before the vote. And at least one person told the council that the issue was not dead.

"We're going to continue to fight this. This is not over," said Tim Haas, a Manitou Springs business owner who is a part of a group that will solicit signatures to get a question on the November ballot in hopes of overturning the council's decision. The lone vote cast against sales came from Councilman Gary Smith.

Manitou officials and residents have been debating the issue since summer 2013. Multiple well-attended public comment meetings were held from August to December, with people speaking passionately on both sides of the issue. A task force of officials and residents in the town of 5,200 was formed in November to hammer out an ordinance to amend the city code and establish regulations for pot stores.

The code amendment outlines stringent rules for licensing and locations of potential retail stores.

Sales are limited to 1 ounce per transaction for Colorado residents and a quarter-ounce for out-of-state residents. In addition, the ordinance that passed Tuesday will limit customers to one transaction per day.

Many unknowns remain about potential sales tax revenues and marijuana tourism as the town begins accepting applications for licenses.

Town voters approved a minimal 5 percent sales tax, with a 10 percent maximum, on recreational marijuana sales. Snyder and other officials won't even begin to estimate how much tax revenue will come from future pot sales, saying it's too hard to predict with the closest other stores being in Denver and Pueblo.

In an interview Thursday, though, Police Chief Joe Ribeiro said his department is gearing up for an onslaught of traffic when the retail outlets open. Media reports in early January showed huge lines, sometimes blocks long, when the first stores opened elsewhere in Colorado. The police chief points to the 650,000 people in the Pikes Peak region and cringes at the thought of a similar situation.

Ribeiro also said refresher courses in substance abuse and related consequences may be something the town addresses in the future for the community and town employees.

Laurie Wood, the Manitou Springs School District 14 director of Partners for Healthy Choices, said that there is not an immediate plan to revamp the town's approach to substance abuse education in the wake of Tuesday's council vote.

"I don't think we need to specifically change how we do business," said Wood, adding that she is "super focused on kids."

"Prevention for me is the key here, and the most basic form of prevention is communication."

Wood said the town will be offering an educational seminar April 6 on "drugged driving," an issue Ribeiro said is first in his mind when it comes to law enforcement in and retail pot sales in Manitou.

Wood said that program, however, was in the works before marijuana and retail pot shops were made legal in Colorado. The seminar will not only address driving under the influence of pot, but also will focus on alcohol and prescription drugs. A location for the event has not yet been set.

Wood, who set the agenda for the April program way back in spring of 2013, said that the timing of Tuesday's vote and the upcoming seminar just happen to be convenient.

"It's certainly not bad timing," she said. "We've had medical marijuana for a few years. To me it seemed like a good time to do it."



- Click here for continuing coverage on the marijuana industry in Colorado.

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