June 9, 2013 Updated: June 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm
Colorado Springs is at another crossroads. The city has transitioned to a strong mayor form of government. The local housing market is beginning to recover from the recession. So far we appear to be surviving sequestration. But in the coming weeks the city must decide whether to allow retail marijuana sales.
Amendment 64, approved by Colorado voters in 2012, has moved into the implementation phase. Regulation of the many details concerning legalized marijuana is a daunting task. One of those details is an enormous one - legal retail sale of pot within the city limits. The amendment permits "the licensing of cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores;" It also allows each locality to determine whether it will allow retail stores and then create regulations to govern those stores. Or, they can simply opt out or establish a moratorium, as Pueblo and many other municipalities have done. El Paso County has already banned retail sales and so has Woodland Park, a mountain community known for its scenic beauty. Colorado Springs should do the same.
Proponents of retail stores that sell marijuana have two main selling points: the tax revenue to be gained and the idea that the stores will allow legal sales, theoretically diminishing illegal and underground sales.
City council seems to be leaning toward allowing retail sales of marijuana. But business, military and community leaders are sounding alarms about the domino effect those sales could have.
There are many unknowns. We don't know how many retail stores will pop up. When medical marijuana was first legalized, those stores proliferated like rabbits. Platte Avenue was lined with storefronts featuring the trademark green cross. Yes, now that the dust has settled, many of those stores are out of business, with less than half still in operation. Expenses, security and inventory issues have challenged the businesses some once labeled "the green rush." Recreational marijuana stores will face the same challenges and more.
City council should remember that despite Amendment 64, the possession of marijuana is still against federal law. Colorado officials hope the feds will not clamp down on the state, but that remains a big unknown in this equation. What is clear however, is that Colorado Springs is a home rule city. We are not just allowed to make decisions in the best interest of Colorado Springs, we have a responsibility to do so. Pointing to state-wide voter results, and a thin margin majority in El Paso County, as a factor in making this decision is simply avoiding a critical decision making process, right and responsibility of the city.
Before going down the path to retail sales for recreational purposes, the city must consider the ramifications. Whatever net tax revenue the city might garner, after paying all costs of enforcement and any other negative economic effects, the negative aspects of allowing retail pot stores could overshadow. We don't know what the effect will be on the military installations that call Colorado Springs home. As was reported in The Gazette, some military sources think retail pot sales will hurt Colorado Springs' image and threaten our choice as a military destination for future bases or additional troops. About 40 percent of the local economy is based on the military and defense contractors. With economic recovery just beginning in our region, it would be foolish to endanger that base.
Many cities in the U.S. have become hotbeds for innovation and have successfully attracted young professionals, entrepreneurs, new companies and investment without selling pot in retail stores. Colorado Springs is not Denver, or Boulder. We have our own unique image. We are home to the Olympic Training Center, The United States Air Force Academy, Focus on the Family, innovators in aerospace and other technologies and of course many world-famous natural attractions. People come to the Springs from all over the world, for many reasons.
The question is, would legalization of retail marijuana help enhance the attractiveness of our city and the quality of life for our citizens?
We urge Springs City Council to evaluate this decision based on clear benefits and risks as well as the effect this decision will have on building an even better Colorado Springs for the future. We encourage them to use sound judgment as to what the best decision is, just for the future of our city. The possible upside from sale tax collections and "pot tourism" could easily be offset by long-term negative effects in our image, family-related tourism and importantly, loss of business from current and prospective employers.