EMERALD FIELDS
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Jennifer Davis checks out a sample container of marijuana at Emerald Fields, Manitou Springs' second and final recreational marijuana shop, which opened on Manitou Avenue Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

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Manitou Springs will explore whether to double the recreational pot shops it allows in town, the City Council decided Tuesday night. 

The Southern Colorado Cannabis Council asked city officials to increase the shop limit from two to four, and council members agreed to gauge whether residents support that idea. 

Jason Warf, executive director of the organization, said local property owners and real estate professionals told him they would like more marijuana retailers in town.

Adrianne Mollins, a Colorado Springs resident who co-owns a Pueblo marijuana cultivation center with her husband, approached Warf about opening a pot shop in Manitou. 

"I just see the opportunity for more stores in Manitou," she told the City Council. "I think there’s enough business to be spread out to other businesses." 

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Warf cited benefits, including competitive pricing for consumers. Maggie's Farm and Emerald Fields, the only recreational marijuana shops in El Paso County, charge "two to three times the market rate," he said. "The reality is, another license or two breaks that duopoly up. Our argument is: It’s good for the city, and it’s good for consumers."

Personnel at both shops weren't available to comment Tuesday night.

The advent of more pot shops also would generate more money for schools and other city needs, Warf said. Recreational pot sales in Manitou now are taxed at 25.03 percent, including the city’s 6 percent tax. A 2013 ballot measure allows the City Council to raise that rate to 10 percent.

The city’s general fund doubled from about $5 million in 2013 to about $10 million in 2017. And the budget for its Urban Renewal Authority climbed from an average of $34,000 a year in the four years before legalization to $1.2 million in 2016, thanks to pot tax collections.

Maggie's Farm opened in 2014, and Emerald Fields opened the next year. 

Because Manitou has fewer than three pot stores, the state doesn't require it to disclose sales and tax collections from those outlets.

But the Manitou budget's "other" category for businesses, including marijuana, saw sales taxes rise from $3,325 in December 2013 to $74,168 in December 2014 and to $279,377 in December 2017.

Supporters of an increased cap are willing to put the question to voters in a special election through the city's initiative process, Warf said. But he said he hopes to work with proponents and the city to find agreement. 

"In a city government atmosphere, of course, the will of the people should be carried out. But you guys are the professionals. You know what’s best for Manitou, in terms of time, place, manner," Warf said. "I think it’s best done through the city." 

The city likely will work with the Council of Neighbors and Organizations to develop a public input process, which could start in mid-January or February, Mayor Ken Jaray said. 

"A community engagement process is going to be our first step. Before we weigh in on anything, we need to take the temperature of the community," Jaray said. "We would do that, and then we would regroup and say yes or no, depending on what the outcome of that process was."

The cannabis council proposes that the city issue more licenses based on a point system that would give an advantage to women, minorities and people who don't have more than one dispensary license. 

But the city likely would need some rezoning to allow two new stores, Warf said.

The shops can only be in the commercial zone District and more than 500 feet from schools, substance abuse treatment centers and some other facilities, under a 2014 city ordinance. Other factors also are considered, including proximity to parks, community centers, hotels and residential areas. 

"If zoning stayed the same, the reality is you’re probably only going to get one new store," Warf said. "If you issue two licenses, that’s great in theory, but the real estate is just not there."

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