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Point/Counterpoint: Should Colorado Springs legalize recreational marijuana sales?

By: Jill Gaebler and Jeff Hunt
August 20, 2017 Updated: August 20, 2017 at 11:41 am
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FILE - Dylan Aragon of Pueblo smells a container of marijuana at Marisol Gardens in Pueblo West Wednesday, January 1, 2014, before making his first legal purchase of pot. (Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette)

Jill Gaebler

While marijuana is an intoxicant, it is less dangerous than alcohol, which kills over 88,000 Americans every year, and far less dangerous than legally prescribed opioids, which killed 472 Coloradans in 2015 alone. Colorado passed Amendment 64 in 2012, but over four years later, Colorado Springs has yet to allow its citizens the right to purchase recreational marijuana.

Most people don't know that Colorado led the country in outlawing alcohol sales four years before the country enacted Prohibition. Seventeen years later, Colorado could no longer tolerate the increased crime and corruption and did not wait for federal law to change, thus legalizing alcohol in willful violation of federal law. Sound familiar?

That review of our history should remind us of what we already know and should never forget: In a democracy, denying the people a product they want will create a black market for it, and black markets always come with unsavory consequences.

The worst consequence of the marijuana black market is that the safety of our children is imperiled. A black marketer will sell marijuana to our children. A licensed and tax-paying retailer will not. They will not jeopardize their livelihood.

This proof, and other proof readily available from the Colorado Health Department's website, clearly shows that teen marijuana use dips after legalization and that Colorado youths obtain 3 percent of their marijuana from a family member and 2 percent of it with their own MMJ card. That implies that 95 percent of their marijuana is coming from the black market. Don't be misled by those who cherry-pick histrionic headlines from obviously biased sources that claim otherwise.

And a black marketer sells other drugs, too. Inevitably, a customer requesting his usual ounce of pot will instead be offered heroin or meth. A legal and licensed business, by contrast, will always provide the requested product. When was the last time you went to a liquor store and were told they were out of beer but how about some opioids? Let's be absolutely honest: The gateway to other drugs is not marijuana, it's prohibition.

Marijuana had a $2.4 billion economic impact in Colorado in 2016. It also brought in over $200 million in state tax revenues and has created over 18,000 full-time jobs.

With only two stores and 5,300 residents, Manitou Springs has experienced huge tax revenues from recreational marijuana sales, allowing officials to pave roads and reinforce stormwater infrastructure. Data show that easily 80 percent of Manitou's customers live in Colorado Springs, providing Manitou the tax benefits from our purchases.

Military leaders know our citizens already have easy access to legal marijuana and it's not fueling an exodus from the Pikes Peak region. In fact, defense contractor Lockheed Martin recently announced the construction of a $350 million manufacturing plant in Denver, a city that already sells recreational marijuana.

Business and the military alike want to locate in cities that support economic development and are well-maintained.

Prohibition isn't benefiting Colorado Springs in any way whatsoever. If we want to keep marijuana away from our kids, while realizing significant and much needed tax revenue, then we must legalize it, tax it and regulate it in ways that promote our local values and keep our city strong.

 

Jeff Hunt

Legalizing retail marijuana in Colorado Springs will do one thing for sure: flood the community with more drugs. The worst impact will be on young people. Colorado has one of the highest youth marijuana use rates in the country, 74 percent higher than the national average.

Communities that legalize retail marijuana, like Denver, Boulder and Pueblo, have a higher youth use rate than state and national averages, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Just a few weeks ago, The Washington Post reported on a study that found once students stopped smoking marijuana, their grades improved. This was especially important for students who were close to dropping out of school.

Legalizing recreational marijuana also has a disproportionate effect on minority communities. Arrests of black and Hispanic youths in Colorado for possession of marijuana have risen 58 percent and 29 percent, respectively. We need to give every child every opportunity to succeed, and recreational marijuana is a hindrance to their future.

The black market hasn't disappeared in Colorado, either.

As Smart Approaches to Marijuana details in a report, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told reporters, "The criminals are still selling on the black market. . We have plenty of cartel activity in Colorado (and) plenty of illegal activity that has not decreased at all." A representative of the attorney general's office said that legalization "has inadvertently helped fuel the business of Mexican drug cartels . cartels are now trading drugs like heroin for marijuana, and the trade has since opened the door to drug and human trafficking."

In fact, a recent report by Arcview Market Research shows that over a quarter of all money spent on marijuana in Colorado is still being spent on the black market.

While proponents of legalizing retail marijuana highlight tax revenue for the community, it pales in comparison with the costs for law enforcement, youth deterrent, health care treatment, addiction recovery, workplace absenteeism and more.

Colorado has seen an increase in newborn infants with THC in their bodies. As CBS4 detailed, "one Pueblo hospital is reporting nearly half the babies tested in one month had marijuana in their system." Is it worth selling our children's futures for measly tax revenue?

Bottom line, by allowing retail marijuana in our communities, we are creating a generation of potheads with long-lasting consequences - one being lower IQs. For a community with a proud tradition of raising up our nation's leaders with the United States Air Force Academy, numerous military installations, Colorado Christian University and the United States Olympic Training Center, this is not a drug we want flooding our communities. We encourage the City Council and Colorado Springs residents to continue the course and keep retail marijuana out of our town.

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Jill Gaebler represents District 5 on the Colorado Springs City Council. Jeff Hunt is the vice president of public policy for Colorado Christian University.

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