Recreational marijuana ballot proposal unlikely in Colorado Springs this year (copy)

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

A citizens group has resubmitted two petitions to place a question on the November ballot to legalize recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs. 

Your Choice Colorado Springs, the committee backing the question, initially filed a petition in January that the city clerk's office warned could trigger a special election because it came in two weeks too early for the November ballot. Members of the group said it was never their intent to trigger a separate special election and just wanted to give themselves time to work with the city on the ballot measure. 

In recent weeks, the committee incorporated changes an initial review committee suggested into the new petitions it submitted on Thursday to make the regular mid-term election, said Cliff Black, an attorney and member of the group. 

So far the group says they have worked well with the city after some initial drama over their filing in January, when proponents claimed were denied an opportunity to file a petition to put the question on the ballot. Later that same day, the city clerk accepted the petition. 

"We have been happy with the partnership so far. ... They even complimented us on the quality of our original ballot language," Black said. 

The new petitions propose two options for taxation. One would levy a 5% city tax that would fund the cost of licensing and regulating the new shops as well as veterans, mental health programs and public safety. The other would allow the city council to ask residents to place a city-specific tax on marijuana no greater than 5% at a later time for the same purposes. 

Committee spokesman Anthony Carlson said the two petitions give the group options as they work with the city.  

"If one gets stuck in the muck for some reason, you still have a path forward," he said. 

The city doesn't directly provide services for veterans and mental health programs and it would be up to the city council how to distribute those funds if the ballot measure passes, Black said. 

The campaign, backed by the industry and residents, must still collect about 31,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot and that work is expected to start in the middle or end of March, he said. 

If passed, it would allow existing medical marijuana shops to apply for a license to also sell recreational marijuana. The city currently caps the number of medical marijuana shops in town at 112, according to city code. 

The Colorado Springs City Council weighed placing a question to legalize recreational marijuana sales in 2020, but it did not gain enough support from council members who had concerns it could hurt the town’s chances of retaining U.S. Space Command. The question was also unpopular with the marijuana industry because it would have allowed only 24 stores to transition to recreational sales.

In January, Manitou Springs voters turned down a ballot question to add a third marijuana shop in town. 

The committee behind the question argues Colorado Springs is losing tax revenue on recreational marijuana sales to Manitou Springs and other communities and if the ballot measure passed the community could generate $10 million to $15 million annually in new taxes.

If the question makes the ballot, Mayor John Suthers said previously he would oppose it. Legalizing marijuana has not reined in the black market and the city has wrestled with the high cost of enforcement, he said, earlier.  

Other opponents have previously said legalizing marijuana would lead to property crime around shops and increase children and teen exposure to it. 

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

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