Recreational marijuana debate returns to Colorado Springs with November ballot in sight

COLORADO SPRINGS — The debate over whether or not to allow recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs has returned to the Olympic city as a group of citizens filed a petition to put the issue on the ballot.

Ideally, for organizers like Clifton Black, the issue makes it to the general election in November. If it does pass and voters approve it, the issue would not allow for new licenses for hobby stores, but instead would allow the city’s dozens of medical marijuana stores to sell people without a prescription for the plant.

“At this time, anyone who is not a patient but wants to use marijuana recreationally is limited to going to Manitou Springs or Pueblo County or buying from the legal market,” a said Black, corporate cannabis lawyer at Clifton Black’s law firm.

Black, like many recreational marijuana proponents over the years in Colorado Springs, points to the tax revenue the city lacks.

In the city of Pueblo (excluding Pueblo County tax revenue), approximately $1,163,024 was raised from retail marijuana taxes from December 2020 through November 2021.

Hundreds of thousands of additional dollars were brought in through licensing fees, according to the city’s latest budget.

Colorado Springs has more than four times the population of Pueblo, and Black estimates the city could bring in between $10 million and $15 million in tax revenue. He believes most of the customers that Colorado Springs “misses” go to Manitou Springs. Because Manitou Springs has fewer than three stores, Colorado law prohibits public disclosure of city tax revenues.

“Manitou Springs has redone all of its roads and curbs. They bought new fire equipment. The same goes to Pueblo,” Black said.

Black says the measure he wants to put on the ballot would earmark tax revenue for veterans services, mental health programs, public safety and funding for industry regulation in the city.

“We may be giving up tax revenue, but on the other hand, how much are we spending on the harm that can and could be and will be done to our people, especially our young people,” said Randy Helms, an adviser City of Colorado Springs representing Borough 2.

Helms was elected in April last year on a platform that included the stance against recreational marijuana.

He says he has read a wealth of research that outlines the behavioral and mental health problems that recreational marijuana use in teenage children can cause.

Because marijuana is federally illegal, research into its effects is in its infancy, though several articles can be found by searching online detailing Helms’ concerns.

Black says kids are more likely to get marijuana on the black market, and the lack of a regulated recreational reinforces the black market’s ability to work.

“The chilling effect of the illegal market is that it makes it easier for children to access it. The illegal market doesn’t care who they sell to. There are also no regulations on the product. The regulated market has substantial testing,” he said.

Helms shares some of Mayor John Suthers’ well-documented concerns about the military presence and the decision under review to move Space Command to Colorado Springs. He says he cannot support recreational marijuana based on his sponsorship of Air Force Academy cadets, where they are prohibited from using.

He’s also worried about the potential for homelessness he’s seen in Aurora and Denver following the legalization of recreational sales in those cities.

Helms says her main concern is the effect it might have on children.

“I don’t want to go down this road to legalize recreational marijuana to see if I’m right or the other groups are right,” he said.

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