Last year the citizens of Colorado voted to allow the possession of recreational marijuana. They also voted to give local authorities the power to decide whether the sale and distribution of the drug would be allowed within their jurisdiction.
Locally, there is a lot riding on this decision by our City Council and there is no requirement that they rush into it. The smartest short-term solution might be to just wait to decide whether to legalize local production and sales until we see what happens in Colorado jurisdictions that have authorized the sale of recreational marijuana.
Colorado Springs is unique within the State of Colorado, and many factors must be given serious consideration while debating the impact of local sales in our city. Most obvious is the presence of five major military installations and the accompanying defense related companies who have made Colorado Springs their home. Combined, they are far and away the largest segment of our economy.
As a former senior officer and commander, I can state unequivocally that local commanders are very concerned about easy access to marijuana by their uniformed and civilian workforce. While recreational marijuana might be legal for some, it will remain illegal for those in uniform or who work in most companies who do defense-related work, and certainly for those who retain security clearances.
Many have touted the economic advantages to the local economy if recreational sales are authorized and taxed. But we must also consider the significant potential negative impacts on our economy by weakening our relationship with the military. Budget pressures on the military to reduce personnel and installations will be great over the next few years. The military services are pushing for another round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
Those who think Colorado Springs is immune to potential cuts, even base closures, are misinformed. One of the criteria used in deciding where cuts will be made is an assessment of community support for the military mission and personnel. Any perception that our local community is a difficult environment for local commanders to maintain good order and discipline will undoubtedly be an important factor. The local environment will be a concern for defense contractors as well.
I've lived and traveled overseas. We need to learn from those who have a history of legalized drug use. We can expect an influx of outsiders to our city who will come here just to smoke legal pot. There is a real threat that some parks and recreational areas used by families will no longer be available to those who want to avoid the drug culture. That has certainly been the experience in a number of European cities that have legalized marijuana. One thing is certainly clear from the European experience, legalizing and taxing pot will not eliminate black market sales.
Let's take a measured approach and not rush into legalizing the distribution and sale of recreational pot in Colorado Springs.
Bentley Rayburn served in the U.S. Air Force over 30 years, retiring as a major general in 2006. He lives in Colorado Springs.