Busy Manitou Marijuana Stores

Recreational marijuana shops in Manitou Springs have been busy since the onset of COVID-19. At Maggie’s Farm Marijuana Dispensary, a line of customers that have placed online orders wait their turn to pick up their products on Monday, July 27, 2020. The Colorado Springs City Council decided Monday not to move forward with a ballot question to allow recreational marijuana sales in town.  (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Colorado Springs voters will not have the chance to vote in November on allowing recreational marijuana sales in the city after the question failed to gain traction with city officials. 

The question didn't gain enough support from Colorado Springs City Council members during an informal work session Monday. To be placed on the ballot required support from five council members, but that number wasn't reached after the issue faced sharp criticism from Mayor John Suthers and others.

Opponents argued legalizing recreational marijuana could hurt the town's chances of becoming the next permanent home for U.S. Space Command because the military would likely weigh the drug laws in competing communities in its decision.  

Suthers also argued the promises made by recreational marijuana proponents when it was legalized statewide in 2012, such as reigning in the black market, have not been kept. 

"We are spending infinitely more time and effort regulating marijuana than when it was illegal," he said. 

Colorado Springs City Council to debate recreational marijuana ballot question

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler had proposed allowing 24 medical marijuana stores selected by a lottery to swap their licenses to recreational marijuana. New recreational marijuana sales could have generated $16 million to $18 million in additional city revenue each year, if the council agreed to impose an additional 12% tax on the sales, she said.

Gaebler on Monday suggested simplifying the ballot question and asking voters just to allow recreational sales. The city could then form a task force to determine details, such as how many stores would be allowed to operate and how they could be selected. 

"We certainly don’t want to be picking winners and losers," she said. 

Several council members who backed the measure pointed out the city would likely need the additional revenue from recreational marijuana as it faces falling sales tax revenues because of the coronavirus. Other area cities that sell recreational marijuana, such as Manitou Springs, are drawing Colorado Springs shoppers and benefiting from those tax dollars that could flow to the city, council members argued.

New recreational marijuana tax dollars could help fill budget gaps and potentially help pay to address some social problems such as homelessness and impaired driving associated with marijuana use, Council President Richard Skorman said.

Legal cannabis sales in Colorado reach all-time high

"It does’t make sense not to capture that revenue because we are already dealing with law enforcement issues, we are already dealing with car accidents," Skorman said. 

Backers of the question also argued that other states that have legalized recreational marijuana sales, including California, have not seen military investment decline. 

Councilman David Geislinger, a potential swing vote, said he felt the revenue projections were too speculative and he would prefer recreational marijuana supporters petition voters to put a question on the ballot. 

"The culture war is not going to get resolved in Colorado Springs City Council," he said. 

Councilman Tom Strand, another potential swing vote, said he decided not to support it after speaking with active duty military members, school representatives and law enforcement members. 

The marijuana industry is planning to petition at some point to put the question on the ballot to legalize recreational sales and allow existing stores to transition to those sales, said Tom Scudder, President of the Colorado Springs Cannabis Association. The industry believes a future question will succeed based on the results from several surveys and polls, he said.

The industry was opposed to a question that would have selected 24 stores to make the transition because it would put many of the remaining medical marijuana stores out of business, Scudder said. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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