July 24, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013 at 11:47 am
Council member Val Snider said he had no idea he would be the swing vote on the decision about retail recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs.
Other council members had expressed their views on whether the city should allow retail pot stores and most observers were sure it would be a 5-4 split, but believed council would allow recreational marijuana stores.
Snider was quiet on the issue until the moment the roll was called on the vote.
"My style is I take all the input I can," he said. "I may not make up my mind until shortly before the vote."
Tuesday's council vote on the issue was a 5-4 split, but with Snider as the swing vote, the city opted out of the state law that allows municipalities to regulate marijuana stores in the same way they regulate and license liquor sales.
"The key point was a combo of two things - the number of uncertainties that would come with retail sales and things that would come downstream," Snider said of his vote, which shocked and angered proponents of Amendment 64. "This town has never had anything like this before and the unintended consequences that would surface I don't think have been thought through."
Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in November. The state law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants on their property. The law also allows cities to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational use like it does alcohol sales. But cities can opt out of the law. So far, 35 cities have banned retail marijuana sales and 24 have put a moratorium on sales for time to study the issues and develop local regulations, according to the Colorado Municipal League. Denver has approved retail marijuana sales and Pueblo and Aurora have delayed their permitting process until 2014.
By Wednesday morning, Snider said he had received a handful of emails from unhappy constituents, some threatening to recall him. Snider is an at-large council member and some constituents believe Snider did not represent the entire city with his vote. Colorado Springs voters approved Amendment 64 by 4,947 votes.
But Snider stands by his decision.
"I would say I was elected to represent the people and make the best informed decision I can as a city councilor," he said. "That is the way I chose to vote."
Proponents of Amendment 64, who met with council members and testified during recent public hearings, said they are mobilizing now to decide their next move.
"We are committed to representing the people even when our representatives don't," said Mark Slaugh, local business owner and proponent of Amendment 64.
Amendment 64 passed in Colorado Springs, but not in every council district. The center of Colorado Springs voted in favor of Amendment 64, but voters in the suburbs said no to legalized pot.
Council member Andy Pico, District 6, voted to ban marijuana sales and said he was representing his constituents who voted 18,967 to 16,976 against Amendment 64. Council members Don Knight and Joel Miller also voted to ban sales, the same as their constituents in Districts 1 and 2.
Council members Keith King, Helen Collins and Jill Gaebler voted with their constituents, who approved Amendment 64 in Districts 3, 4 and 5. At-large council member Jan Martin wanted the city to regulate retail marijuana sales.
Slaugh said he understands the council members who voted with their districts. But he was disheartened that two at-large council members did not uphold the vote of the community, he said.
At-large council member Merv Bennett voted to ban retail marijuana sales. His concerns centered on the city's ability to retain and attract primary employers, who testified that marijuana sales would have a negative affect on the city's economic development.
"It also matters to me when educators from the university and high schools are imploring us to do this for the health of their situation," Bennett said.
Amendment 64 has been the most controversial issue Bennett has faced on council, he said. He has received some "hate email" since Tuesday's vote, but said his feedback is coming in 3 to 1 thanking him for his vote.
"I feel I was elected for my experience, for my wisdom and for my knowledge to take the information given to me, and the information that has come in since the election," he said. "It is my responsibility to listen, value it and use my knowledge and experience to come up with what I believe in my heart is in the best interests for Colorado Springs."
Outside the council meeting Tuesday some proponents of Amendment 64 said they will turn their attention to Manitou Springs, which has not made a ruling on the issue. Manitou Springs City Council is expected to take up the issue in August. Council member Coreen Toll said the council has received the background on the law and has been presented with the options under the law, but has not discussed the issue or taken action.
In Manitou Springs, the vote was 2,059 votes to 985 votes in favor of Amendment 64.