Marijuana activists look at ways to overturn Colorado Springs ban on recreational pot sales

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As we noted yesterday, the odds that recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs would be prohibited have been rising due to assorted political maneuvering involving city council members and Mayor Steve Bach. But many observers were still surprised yesterday when a majority of councilmembers voted for a ban. Now, local activists are looking at ways to reverse this edict -- and none of them are easy.

Colorado Springs has a nine member city council, over which the community's mayor has veto power. It takes a two-thirds majority to override such a veto, which Bach had publicly said he would use if the council approved recreational sales. With three members on record as opposing sales and four in favor, that meant the two undecided officials -- Don Knight and Val Snider -- needed to support sales in order to take a mayoral veto off the table.

But earlier this week, Knight announced that he would oppose sales -- and at a meeting yesterday afternoon, Snider unexpectedly joined in with a "no" of his own. As a result, the final vote against recreational sales was 5-4, and Bach didn't have to use his veto to stop it.

The reasons most often voiced for opposing sales involved fears about increased access to marijuana by children, the fact that the substance remains illegal federally, and the opposition by officials from the military -- an enormous presence in the Springs, home to the Air Force Academy.

For Mark Slaugh, Southern Colorado regional coordinator for Amendment 64, as well as a particpant on an A64 Marijuana Enforcement Division stakeholder committee and a consultant with the cannabis-related business iComply, the opposition of Snider and colleague Merv Bennett was especially frustrating. Why? Because as at-large members of the council, they're supposed to represent the city as a whole, rather than only a part of it -- and Colorado Springs and El Paso County narrowly voted in favor of the amendment.

In contrast, Knight's opposition came as no surprise to Slaugh.

"We gave him a tour of a dispensary, and afterward, his only comment was that it gave him a headache," Slaugh says. Still, he adds that Knight is "a pretty reasonable guy, and if we'd shot down the ban, he might have voted for a moratorium, which would have made it veto-proof against the mayor. But then two of the three at-large members did not vote in favor of the people. Bennett and Snider basically threw the at-large vote under the bus."

Afterward, activists huddled to talk about strategy moving forward, and Slaugh points out that "we have a few options. One is to issue a citizen referendum and gather signatures to overturn the ban."

Such a move can take place within thirty days after a decision is finalized, and Slaugh believes that if the pro-sales forces move quickly, the matter could be on the ballot in November.

The other approach? Pushing forward with what he calls "a full-on initiative." But such an action can't take place until November 2014 -- and Slaugh believes a referendum would require fewer signatures.

In either case, Slaugh says, "we'll have to go back to the voters again -- and we feel we're gaining more and more momentum on this issue. I think we'll have a good opportunity to overturn this horrible mistake they've made."

Continue for more about the Colorado Springs City Council voting to ban recreational-marijuana sales. Getting pro-sales voters to the polls is key under either scenario, and that could be a challenge given that both 2013 and 2014 are off-year elections, when a presidential race won't inspire additional folks to make their feelings known. Indeed, those who cast ballots in such elections tend to be older and more conservative than during presidential-year elections -- and Slaugh acknowledges that such issues must be considered.

In Slaugh's view, "That question was highlighted very well yesterday by Jan Martin," the one at-large councilmember to vote in favor of recreational sales. "She said, 'I'm noticing in the crowd and the support we have from the public that this is a really generational issue.' And the younger generation doesn't seem as afraid of marijuana legalization and has a more vibrant vision of what it can mean for the future."

Still, Slaugh goes on, "we're running on a very hot issue. The whole world is watching us, and while it isn't an even-numbered election year, we are going to be voting on marijuana taxes, which have polled with very strong support, and we're also coming off multiple jurisdictions in Colorado deciding one way or another on bans or opting in. So the issue is still alive, and I think if the messaging and targeting speaks to the next generation, we should be able to rally people to the polls this November."

Besides, "we proved in the last election that Amendment 64 was more popular than either presidential candidate."

Even so, Slaugh admits to some frustration about having to go through this process again. He mentions assorted reports about Colorado Springs "running toward insolvency in 2018 -- and then they make a decision like this? It leave everybody else scratching their heads. The political power structure in Colorado Springs doesn't really represent what the community is about and what their minds are waking up to."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Meet Don Knight, whose vote may ban recreational pot sales in Colorado Springs."

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