Latest Effort to Allow Recreational Pot Sales Launches in Colorado Springs | Westword
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Latest Effort to Allow Recreational Pot Sales Launches in Colorado Springs

Organizers say they're approaching this go-round differently.
Previous attempts to bring recreational sales to Colorado Springs have failed.
Previous attempts to bring recreational sales to Colorado Springs have failed. Jacqueline Collins
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Another effort to legalize recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs is taking shape.

Colorado Springs only allows medical marijuana dispensaries, having banned recreational sales in 2013. Attempts to put questions about recreational sales on the ballots have failed since then, but current organizers say they're approaching this one from a different angle.

Previous attempts at a ballot initiative went through the Colorado Springs City Council, according to local marijuana business attorney Cliff Black, but the council never approved a proposal for the ballot. So this time, Black and his fellow supporters are pursuing a citizen ballot initiative.

Black and a coalition of community and business leaders recently turned in language for a ballot initiative that would allow medical dispensaries in Colorado Springs to apply for recreational sales licenses. If that language is approved by the City Initiative Review Committee, organizers will have ninety days to collect around 33,000 signatures if they want the initiative to appear on the November 2022 ballot.

Although some members of the Colorado Springs City Council have been vocal in their support for allowing recreational marijuana sales in the city before, they've never constituted a majority, and Mayor John Suthers, a former Colorado attorney general, has consistently opposed recreational marijuana during his tenure. Yet that hasn't stopped over 100 medical dispensaries from opening in Colorado Springs, which has one of the highest counts of medical marijuana patients in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"This is the first time we've done a citizen initiative to get it on the ballot. We've worked with city council before, and they've never put it on the local ballot," Black says.

A 2020 push by recreational sales proponents failed to gain enough traction in council, but informal polling done by local news outlet KOAA showed a majority support for recreational dispensaries in Colorado Springs, and Black says that his organization, Your Choice CoS, has done polling on the issue as well.

"We've done the polling, and believe the voters are in favor of allowing recreational sales in Colorado Springs," he says.

The initiative would only allow current medical dispensaries to apply for recreational sales in order to comply with the city's licensing cap, and wouldn't allow new stores to open. According to a statement from Your Choice CoS, the local tax revenue would be subject to an annual citizen audit "to ensure that money is being spent where voters approved."

Karlie Van Arnam, a former Colorado Springs City Council candidate and boardmember of Your Choice CoS, believes there's a lot of tax revenue left on the table because recreational sales have been banned in the state's second-largest city. Nearby Manitou Springs, a town of just 5,000 that sits less than fifteen minutes from Colorado Springs, is reaping the rewards of that ban, according to Van Arnam, who's a member of the local medical marijuana industry.

"Colorado Springs has already given away so much. The longer we wait, the more we give away, and we have to stop giving Manitou and the surrounding areas our tax revenue," she says.

Over half of the sales tax revenue in Manitou Springs in 2019 came from recreational pot sales, according to former mayor Ken Jaray; the majority of that may have come from Colorado Springs residents and other out-of-towners. A 2020 report by previous recreational sales proponents in Colorado Springs estimated that an 8 percent tax on recreational pot sales would bring in more than $72 million in tax revenue in five years.

Suthers has rejected the promise of more tax revenue when explaining his opposition to recreational marijuana sales; he says he doesn't think the money would mitigate perceived negative impact on quality of life, including upsetting the city's military presence. But marijuana legalization proponents counter those claims, pointing to rec sales in West Coast cities such as San Diego and Sacramento, which have military bases and recreational pot sales.

"We have some of the largest naval bases on the West Coast," Van Arnam says. "That does not hurt the relationship at all in that instance, so there's no reason to think it would here. Furthermore, cannabis is already legal in Colorado Springs, so those issues would've happened years ago."
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