Colorado Springs, Retail Marijuana, and Common Sense

Not long ago, my friend and his wife were showing pictures of their renovated basement to his 90-year-old father and 78-year-old mother. The mother looked at two plants in the picture and asked my friend what they were. He said, “They’re marijuana plants, Mom.”

The parents were mortified. The mother told my friend she was deeply disappointed and asked him what in the world he was thinking. She said the only people who smoked marijuana were young, uncontrollable criminals. My friend tried to explain that this wasn’t true. He was one of many people his age growing pot within legal state and local guidelines. He enjoyed it as a simple recreational diversion that also helped him cope with severe chronic back problems. Other prescription medications had actually damaged his health.

My friend doubts that his parents will ever come to terms with his marijuana use, notwithstanding his age, maturity, proactive concern for their wellbeing, and respectable station in life. This whole affair reminds me of the situation regarding retail marijuana issues in Colorado Springs. In a very real sense, certain well-intentioned but misguided members of the Colorado Springs City Council share the retrograde and counterproductive mindset of my friend’s parents, which puts them on the wrong side of history. Not allowing retail marijuana sales in Colorado Springs is doing more harm than good, and the current policy is doomed to failure.

A brief overview of state and local law will help frame the debate. Colorado Amendment 64 makes the private use, growth, and retail distribution of marijuana legal in the state under specific circumstances and given particular regulations. Colorado Springs voters approved the law by 4,947 votes some time ago. Nevertheless, the amendment also allows cities to opt out of recreational pot sales, which is what the Colorado Springs City Council did in July, 2013. Despite the council’s decision to go against the will of the people, a vocal group of advocates for recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs continues to lobby for a question on the next ballot. This will be a big challenge given the prohibitive costs for doing so combined with certain council members’ fierce resistance to the prospect.

A loss in tax revenues can cripple a community’s prosperity. A recent Denver Post article mentions the three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax, a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax, and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. As of last August, Colorado had collected a cumulative tax-revenue total of nearly $86.7 million for the year. The Colorado Department of Revenue website details where the money goes. For instance, the 15 percent excise tax alone goes to school construction projects. The Department of Revenue website also itemizes marijuana retail sales tax distribution to local governments. Just click here to see how much money Colorado Springs is throwing away by not allowing retail marijuana sales in what will soon be a billion-dollar-per-year industry.

Some claim that allowing retail marijuana in Colorado Springs would damage the city’s reputation by bringing in the wrong group of people. This doesn’t seem to make too much sense either, at least to the following red-blooded, All-American Colorado communities that allow retail marijuana sales: Carbondale, Cortez, Crested Butte, Durango, Eagle County, Glenwood Springs, Salida, Telluride, and Trinidad. In fact, retail marijuana stores would draw millions of perfectly wonderful tourists to the Springs area, especially given that the tourist industry is the third-largest employer in the Pikes Peak region. Job creation and tourism go hand-in-hand, and tourism is something that Colorado Springs does pretty well.

Given that change is inevitable on this front, the city council needs to speak with one voice and reject stagnant policy. The Colorado Springs marijuana industry currently employs around 1,000 people. Most informed accounts state that this number will more than double in short order when the city allows retail marijuana stores, and this might be a modest estimate. The Pueblo Regional Building Department is busier than it has ever been, due mainly to the fact that over half of its permits are being issued to marijuana businesses. As a significant aside, this same inevitable implementation will spell a major reduction in crime. Research indicates that marijuana legalization in Colorado is doing considerable damage to the Mexican drug cartels. Legalization and regulation seem to work better than prohibition.

A recent Gallup poll shows that only 3% of Americans in the 65 and older age group smoke marijuana. In stark contrast, 18% of Americans under the age of 30 smoke pot. When Baby Boomers were young, smoking marijuana was often an expression of rebellion and wildness. Now, many people think of it as a normal, even prosaic, social process. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. Four states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. These numbers will grow dramatically in the coming years for the previously mentioned reasons. If Colorado Springs wants to keep its young people from fleeing in droves to Denver, Boulder, and Ft. Collins, the city leaders need to use some common sense in studying cultural patterns. Then, they should adopt strategies that conform to future realities, not fading echoes of the past.