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Pro-marijuana group shoots for 2018 to propose recreational pot sales in Colorado Springs

August 29, 2017 Updated: August 30, 2017 at 6:16 am
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Colorado Springs resident Jim Coonradt smells a marijuana sample container at Emerald Fields, Manitou Springs' second and final recreational marijuana shop, which opened on Manitou Avenue Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Advocates for legalized recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs are setting their sights on a 2018 ballot proposal, since the chances of getting on El Paso County's November ballot are slim.

A set of proposed stormwater fees sidelined any pot proposal for this year. And while most City Council members have said they want voters to decide on recreational marijuana sales, many say this year is too soon.

But Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods is prepared to petition the issue onto the county's ballot in November 2018, said spokesman Mike Elliott. The group would need to collect about 20,000 voter signatures by next August.

Since Colorado Springs voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012, allowing recreational marijuana sales across the state, support for local recreational sales has only increased, Elliott said. And while he said he's confident the group could collect enough signatures, "We would prefer to work with the City Council to outright opt in, or they could put it to a vote."

Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler said such a petition likely would only represent marijuana industry interests, and she would prefer to work with advocates, citizens and Mayor John Suthers to craft legislation in the community's best interest.

Suthers repeatedly has said he opposes recreational pot sales in the city, often noting that despite Colorado's legalization, the federal government still deems the drug illegal.

"There is nothing subtle or nuanced about my position on recreational marijuana," he said Tuesday. "Getting high for fun is not something our community should condone. The social and economic costs will far outweigh any economic benefit."

A majority of six council members could enact an ordinance allowing recreational pot sales, or it could put an issue on the county's ballot next year.

Gaebler said she'd like to make the move with Suthers' support or minimal opposition.

"I've got to believe that the mayor knows that recreational marijuana (sales are) going to be legalized in Colorado Springs at some point in time," she said.

Residents can buy recreational marijuana legally in Manitou Springs, where Colorado Springs has no authority over regulations, Gaebler said.

"I'm ready for us to put our own values on this regulation," she said.

But she said she still wants to keep the drug away from children.

Legalization would do that, Elliott said. Outlawing the sales pushes customers to an already thriving black market, he said. The city could legalize the sales, impose its own regulations, cut down black market traffic and generate revenue, he said.

A University of Denver study commissioned by Elliott's group showed that the city could raise more than $25 million next year through legalized pot sales.

"As Colorado Springs citizens get more information about how much money is on the line and understand that this money is otherwise going to criminals and undermining public safety, support is just going to grow," Elliott said.

Suthers has said he believes the study's estimates are overly generous.

Gaebler agreed. But while she said money isn't her primary motivation, even a fraction of the revenue predicted by the study would help the city.

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