Two recreational marijuana shops seems to be the magic number for Manitou Springs officials and residents.
Two months after a nonprofit advocacy group asked Manitou Springs to allow two more recreational marijuana shops, city officials say they’ve heard no groundswell of support from residents. On Tuesday, the City Council will consider a resolution reaffirming the two-store cap on recreational marijuana outlets.
“What we’re saying is that the regulations we have in place now seem to be working well,” Mayor Ken Jaray said.
The small group of business and property owners who want the cap raised to four say they’ll try to petition for a special election if the council rejects their request, said Jason Warf of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council.
“They (the City Council) just want to blatantly say that they have no interest in compromising with the proponents of this,” Warf said Friday. “As of this morning, I’ve advised the proponents to move forward with the initiative petition.”
Proponents would have up to 180 days to collect 330 signatures from registered voters in Manitou Springs, according to the city clerk. If the required signatures are submitted and verified, the council would have a month to call a special election or pass an ordinance adopting the measure.
A special election would cost taxpayers $15,000 to $20,000, according to a memo that Councilman Bob Todd has prepared for Tuesday’s special meeting.
Warf asked the City Council to consider raising the cap in December after he was approached by Adrianne Mollins, a Colorado Springs resident who co-owns a Pueblo marijuana cultivation center with her husband and wants to expand to Manitou.
Adding two more stores, Warf has said, would increase tax revenues for schools and other city needs, while creating competition that would drive down prices for consumers. The two stores operating in the city, Maggie’s Farm and Emerald Fields, charge double or triple the market rates, he has claimed.
Several customers leaving those shops Friday afternoon said they favored more competition.
As he was leaving Emerald Fields, Brandon Alexander, 22, who lives on the west side of Colorado Springs where recreational marijuana shops are prohibited, said he knows local residents who travel outside the county to buy recreational pot.
“They go to Denver. They go to Pueblo. Even with gas, it’s still cheaper,” he said.
Mike Dale, a Manitou resident, said he wasn’t against increasing the number of marijuana shops in town.
“They bring in money,” he said while standing outside of City Hall. “It’s great for tourism.”
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.
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 city’s tax collections in the “other” category for businesses, including marijuana, increased from $3,325 in December 2013 to nearly $240,000 in November 2018, according to the most recently available city data.
The city’s general fund operations, too, have climbed from about $4.9 million in 2013 to a projected $10.4 million this year.
The Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority has also seen its budget rise from an average of $34,000 per year in the four years before legalization to nearly $1.4 million in 2017, Urban Renewal Authority Chairwoman Ann Nichols said.
The revenue has been used to fund stormwater improvements, help pay for a multimillion dollar reconstruction of West Colorado Avenue and finance other infrastructure upgrades.
City Council members, however, are unsure if tax revenues would increase or if the same amount of sales would just be spread out among more stores, Jaray said.
Plus, he and others on the council say they haven’t seen evidence showing an appetite for more pot outlets.
“We have laid groundwork as a council saying, ‘There’s only going to be this many. This is where they’re going to be,’” Councilman Gary Smith said at a work session last month. “If we start reacting to all of this, we’re looking back at the community and saying, ‘We don’t really care what you said five years ago.’”
Smith cast the lone dissenting vote when, after months of public meetings and debate, the council voted in January 2014 to allow the two stores.
The 2014 ordinance imposes tight restrictions on where the shops can be. The retailers must be in the commercial zone district and must be more than 500 feet from schools, substance abuse treatment centers and some other facilities. Other factors also are considered, including proximity to parks, community centers, hotels and residential areas.
Maggie’s Farm opened on Manitou Avenue in 2014, and Emerald Fields opened a few blocks east the next year.
The shops did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
“We’ve met the need in our community,” said Aimee Cox, former Manitou Springs mayor pro tem. “I don’t want to see marijuana shops lined up in the entry to our community, the gateway to our community, any more than I want to see fast-food restaurants or banks lined up in that gateway.”
Advocates for recreational marijuana shops have previously discussed petitioning onto the ballot in Colorado Springs, where City Council President Richard Skorman and several other council members have said they would support a public vote despite opposition from Mayor John Suthers.
More council members who are receptive to recreational marijuana could be elected this spring, giving the council the majority needed to refer the issue to a future ballot, Skorman said.
“It really depends on who gets elected and how that all works out,” Skorman said. “I wouldn’t say it was off the table, that’s for sure.”
The Southern Colorado Cannabis Council has also proposed that Manitou Springs issue the additional 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.
Warf said that polling Manitou Springs residents about increasing the number of shops has been part of proponents’ plan “since day 1,” but that the supporters were holding off on getting more public input until they’d met with the council members individually.
“Where we’re at, it’s really the city’s choice,” he said. “If they want to come back to the table, I’ve left that door open.”