A Voice of Integrity: An Interview with Jan Martin
City Councilwoman Jan Martin has been a pivotal figure during recent debates in Colorado Springs regarding cannabis retail regulation and sales. Currently, she is well into her second term as an at-large city representative. Martin has also served on several boards and commissions, to include the Citizens Project, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Foundation (Vice President), and Ronald McDonald House Charities Board (President). She has been a strong and unwavering voice for respecting the voters’ wishes in Colorado Springs through reasonable policy and active community engagement. Accordingly, she supported the citizens’ decision to opt into the Amendment 64 provision to allow retail marijuana (RMJ) sales in Colorado Springs. Unlike a slim majority on City Council who rejected the provision, Martin believes that allowing our locality to regulate the sale of retail cannabis is the right thing to do.
I interviewed Councilwoman Martin on August 8, 2013 to gain insight into City Council’s recent ban on retail cannabis sales. She greeted me in the office foyer and offered me coffee in a gracious and instantly likable manner. When I asked her if she minded being on camera, she said that had she known that, she probably wouldn’t have worn stripes. We entered her office, sat, and began discussing the recent opt-out decision.
As a fiscally conservative advocate for personal liberties, Martin found some of her fellow Republican Party members’ arguments against opting into Amendment 64 interesting, to say the least. Early in the interview, she described Colorado Springs’ political climate and why some of her fellow council members may have chosen to opt out. As our conversation progressed, Martin claimed that her adherence to traditional Republican ideologies required her to support Amendment 64 as a personal liberty.
Deen: How significant do you feel the military was in influencing the City Council’s decision to opt out of retail marijuana sales?
Martin: The military plays an important economic role in Colorado Springs, and so I think we’re always open and willing to listen to them. But the generals who came to council asking us to opt out of retail marijuana were all retired generals. We didn’t hear from any of the current leadership. One of the local papers actually called the Pentagon because of the threats that were made that the military would pull out of Colorado Springs if we allow this. The Pentagon said that absolutely wasn’t the case and that they weren’t concerned one way or another with it.
So I’m not sure how much impact the military had on us. We have a new council, and I think five or six of our members are retired military, and they’re really well aware that the military has very strict regulations on drug usage and that the soldiers can be tested at any time. I don’t think it’s up to the city to regulate that. I think it’s up to the military to regulate their own requirements.
Deen: When they argued against the opt-in, claiming that it would be easier or more acceptable for soldiers, what are they really trying to say, do you think?
Martin: Well, you know, it was some of our older, retired generals and some of our older community leaders who came to us [arguing this]. I make the argument that this is a generational division. That the older people, who’ve grown up with marijuana restrictions, and I actually fall into that category, have grown up thinking that marijuana is a bad thing.
I think, on a generational level, the young people from 20-40, don’t see it that way. They’re not afraid of it. They don’t see it as much of a problem. Most of the people we heard from who asked us to opt out were older, versus the younger generation [who] tended to come before council and ask us to opt in. Not that they all wanted to go smoke marijuana, but they just think that there’s no reason not to [allow it], and our community should be open to such things.
Deen: Have you felt any unwarranted pressure from government officials to vote to opt out from retail marijuana sales?
Martin: Well, our mayor [Mayor Steve Bach] is a government official, and he spoke very clearly. He thought it was wrong for Colorado Springs. He thought it would hurt the economy. He thought [retail marijuana sales] would make it more difficult to attract companies and create jobs. My argument has been just the opposite: here in Colorado Springs, we’ve had medical marijuana for two years, and it followed the business cycle that we would have expected.
There was an immediate rush. Everybody got into the business thinking it would be a quick gold mine. And the business cycle takes care of itself. Those who are good business people have thrived and succeeded. Those who weren’t have gone out of business. We’re now down to a very reasonable number of medical marijuana facilities in Colorado Springs, and I would anticipate the very same thing would happen with recreational marijuana. It would create jobs.
Currently, we get about $1 million a year in sales taxes from medical marijuana. It was projected that, if we allowed retail marijuana, we would have added an additional $3-4 million to the city coffers every year. I’m all for the free market and allowing people to start businesses.
One of the things that I think was overlooked in our discussions is that, as we did with medical marijuana, we had an opportunity to actually create regulations that work for our city. However, by opting out, we won’t even be working on regulations. We’re just out now. But we could have created regulations that could have, let’s again say, [controlled marijuana] similar to alcohol [or stated] where the dispensaries would be located.
I would have liked to see some requirements on potency. Pharmacies can’t sell it because different strains of marijuana all have different potency, but there are companies available who can measure the potency of marijuana, so you can put restrictions on that. But we never even got that far. We never even allowed ourselves to explore what some of those regulations might have been.
Deen: So do you think that there’s any chance that city council may, after everything, decide to overturn their decision?
Martin: It does take two votes. It’s an ordinance or law here, and those require two votes. I have no reason to think that this will be overturned.
Deen: Do you think that corporate or business interests in Colorado Springs or elsewhere have been placing pressure on council members to vote to opt out?
Martin: Here in Colorado Springs, we have our Business Alliance, which was recently formed as a combination of our Economic Development Corporation and our Chamber of Commerce. So we usually look to them as the spokespeople for our business community. They came and asked us to opt out. They, too, felt that it would not create a good business climate for Colorado Springs.
They’re the ones responsible to really attract new businesses, and they thought that it would make it more difficult. Once again, I argue the opposite side. We talk a lot in Colorado Springs about wanting to attract a young professional citizenry to work in the businesses here, and I think by once again opting out of marijuana [retail sales], we do just the opposite. Again, it’s the young people who want a progressive city that allows these things. I don’t buy the argument that it would be more difficult to attract businesses if we did have retail marijuana, here.
I can argue the absolute opposite of all of their arguments, and it’s surprising, because coming from the business community, and I’m a business woman myself, their arguments aren’t based on sound business principles. They’re just based on, “Well, we don’t think people would want to come here,” rather than sound business principles.
Deen: Yes, like a fear tactic. . . .
Martin: Yes, I think you’re right. I think there does seem to be a lot of fear in the arguments to opt out. Fear of what might happen, fear of who might come, fear of who might use it, rather than taking advantage of the opportunity and creating the regulations that allow us to create the environment we want, right here in Colorado Springs.
Deen: Yes. Do you think that marijuana regulation and sales represent a danger for our children?
Martin: You know, “the children” is a big argument. We had a lot of people speak to us about how it would then be available to children. Well, it’s illegal for children to purchase, just like alcohol. Children are already getting it from underground resources, and by not providing legal resources, we only will continue to foster or build the underground group who is selling marijuana.
One of the other interesting things about this law is that it allows individuals to grow six plants in their home. I really think, by opting out, we are encouraging individuals to grow their own. Instead of having it out in the public where it’s regulated, we now push the growth of marijuana into the neighborhoods, which I think holds the potential to make it even more widely available for children.
Deen: If your parents are growing it. . . .
Martin: Right. Right. I, too, am concerned about children and want to be sure the regulations made it as difficult as possible for it to get into the hands of anyone under the age of 21. But, I think it currently is available, and it’s currently being done in an unregulated environment. We’ve lost our opportunity to really try to control that.
Deen: Absolutely. We sure have. Now do you feel that the federal government is right or wrong for prohibiting citizens from using marijuana?
Martin: Well, I’m a supporter. I think it’s long past due. I would really like to see it at a federal level. It’s been difficult. Colorado has been sort of the leader with medical marijuana. And it is difficult that there are federal laws that don’t sync with what the states have decided to do. So there is always a threat hanging over everybody’s head. What if the federal government decides they’re going to come in and regulate it themselves? I think it’s time we just sort of get over it and find the best ways to regulate.
Deen: How do you think we can effect change on the federal level on this issue?
Martin: You know, after the vote, I was disappointed to know that Colorado Springs isn’t going to be a part or a leader in setting regulations. We did have that opportunity to be a city that others look to see how to do it and how to do it well.
When I realized we had lost that opportunity and I sat back and looked at it, I think this is already on the road, and it will continue to grow, and I think other states will continue to support it. I think it will just take longer than if we got on board to provide some leadership. But I do think we’re already started down that road, and it’s just a matter of time till other states and other cities begin to opt in.
Deen: So maybe if enough of us decide this is a good idea, we can get the federal government to move on the issue.
Martin: We have to just keep moving forward. Even two years ago, no one would have thought that we’d be where we are today, so we need to remember that there have been some big successes already, and just take that and keep using it to motivate us to move forward.
Deen: Should the federal government have the ability to regulate our personal lives?
Martin: I know everybody thinks I’m a flaming liberal because I support marijuana, but the truth is, I’m a lifelong Republican. I really do believe in personal rights, and I don’t want to see the government restricting our rights and abilities.
I’m actually surprised that more Republicans don’t feel that way, because it’s a solid, traditional Republican argument. And yet it’s the business community, traditionally Republican, who has come out against it, it’s our mayor, who is a strong Republican, saying he supports personal freedoms and rights, so it’s just interesting how conversations have gone.
The traditional political ideology that we all work with doesn’t seem to work in these arguments because some people, who traditionally fight for personal rights, now are saying “but not here.” So it’s been interesting to listen to them and hear their arguments.
Once our interview had ended, Martin turned to me and explained her career path. She began her road to City Council membership by acting as an advocate for the Colorado Springs community. Smiling, she said that someday, I too might find myself choosing to run for City Council. While I don’t aspire to political office, I do feel that Jan Martin’s willingness to equate herself with her constituents, to open her door for discussion, and to remain approachable to regular citizens all work together, defining her as a people’s advocate. When Martin offers her insights for all to hear, the community is far richer for her involvement, and we should listen.