The Obama administration's decision to not stand in the way of voter-approved recreational sales of marijuana in Colorado and elsewhere sparked mixed reactions Thursday from local officials.
In Colorado Springs, officials called the decision momentous but said it was unlikely to change the City Council's 5-4 vote to ban retail marijuana sales for recreational use.
Councilman Merv Bennett, who voted in favor of the ban, said the new policy statement from the Justice Department wouldn't change his vote.
"I voted the way I did for reasons of economic development and moral implications," he said.
Councilman Val Snider, considered the swing vote on the ban, said he was unaware of the policy change and that he would like to see a legal opinion.
"Obviously, that could have impact on future plans," he said.
"I'd want to at least talk to one attorney in the city and say, 'Hey, what's the impact here?" he added. "What's the potential impact?' Because I just flat don't know."
Efforts to reach Mayor Steve Bach for comment were unsuccessful. Bach opposes retail sales, saying it could cost the city jobs and put the health of children and public safety in jeopardy.
Councilwoman Jan Martin, who voted against the ban, said the federal government's stance confirms that Colorado Springs still has the opportunity to regulate sales.
"I don't anticipate this will change the vote of the council, although I wish it would," she said.
Martin said she was not only pleased with the announcement but Attorney General Eric Holder's direction to federal prosecutors to focus on eight enforcement priorities, including preventing marijuana distribution to minors.
"I wasn't surprised by the announcement as I think we will continue to see more states and the federal government continue to relax laws surrounding the recreational use of marijuana," she said.
Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said the policy change is a harbinger of things to come.
"Our federal government is finally seeing that marijuana use should not be a felony and certainly not something the DEA should be enforcing," she said. "Marijuana has so many useful purposes, and the sooner we begin to understand the truth about this beneficial drug, the sooner minds and laws will be changed."
Like Martin, Gaebler, who also voted against the ban, said she was happy to see the federal government emphasize laws to prevent use by minors and drug trafficking.
"My vote would obviously not change, but don't believe that Colorado Springs City Council will revisit this issue anytime in the near future," she said.
Manitou Springs has delayed a decision on marijuana retail sales, and Manitou Councilwoman Coreen Toll said she believes it is "inevitable" that retail marijuana will be available across the United States.
"Why not support a conscious and cohesive community like Manitou Springs to create regulations that other communities can follow?" she said. "We care about our children and the health of all of our citizens and through community process can devise a workable plan."
KC Stark, owner of Studio A64, a social club for cannabis users, called the policy change "the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition."
"We've seen a change, a seismic change, in American drug policy today," he said. "This will be historic."
Contact Daniel J. Chacon 476-1623.