A group of business and community leaders in Colorado Springs, Colorado has launched a bid to legalize sales of recreational cannabis in the city, arguing that tax revenue generated by purchases of legal cannabis by local residents should stay in the community.
Colorado voters legalized sales of recreational cannabis with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, and regulated sales began in the state two years later. But Colorado Springs banned recreational cannabis sales in 2013, although the city is home to more than 100 medical cannabis dispensaries.
Colorado Springs Ballot Measure Filed
On Monday, the group Your Choice Colorado Springs filed ballot language for a proposed voter initiative that would allow the city’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for licenses to sell adult-use cannabis. In a statement from the group, the coalition of community and business leaders said that Colorado Springs residents are forced to travel to nearby cities that allow recreational sales. As a result, the city is leaving millions of dollars in potential sales tax revenue on the table, according to Your Choice Colorado Springs.
“It’s hard to believe just how much tax revenue politicians have robbed our city of over the past decade,” said Cliff Black, an attorney and the lead elector petitioning the city for adult-use cannabis sales. “Recreational marijuana is 100 percent legal for every single adult living in the city. Yet the city gets none of the benefits. Instead, residents drive and spend their hard-earned money in Manitou, Pueblo, and even Denver, and then bring their marijuana right back home to Colorado Springs. With this initiative, we are asking voters if they want to keep their tax dollars local.”
The group noted that Manitou Springs is the only city in El Paso County that permits recreational cannabis sales. Thanks to limited competition and high local demand, the two dispensaries in Manitou Springs are among the most profitable in the state.
Voters in Colorado Springs approved Amendment 64 by a margin of about 3,000 votes, according to Westword. Activists have made previous bids to legalize recreational cannabis sales, but have failed to gain the support of a majority of the city council. Additionally, Colorado Springs Mayor Mayor John Suthers, who once served as state attorney general, has been a vocal opponent of recreational marijuana sales since taking office in 2015.
“When Colorado began adult-use sales of cannabis in 2014, we anticipated that our local officials would respect the will of the voters and craft a regulatory structure allowing recreational sales,” said Karlie Van Arnam, a mother, small business owner and former candidate for city council. “But instead, year after year, politicians have declined to provide a regulatory structure to collect precious tax revenue for our city. Today, Colorado Springs residents are taking this decision back into our own hands to finally give ourselves the choice to vote on allowing recreational sales in our community.”
Organizers Hope for November 2022 Vote
If the proposed ballot language submitted this week by Your Choice Colorado Springs is approved by the City Initiative Review Committee, the group will have 90 days to collect the approximately 33,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the ballot for the November 2022 general election.
To comply with the city’s cap on retailers, the ballot measure would only permit existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis with state approval. The proposal would not allow new cannabis dispensaries to open in Colorado Springs.
Sales tax revenue generated by recreational cannabis sales in Colorado Springs would help fund public safety improvements, an expansion of mental health services and support for military veterans, according to the Your Choice Colorado Springs website. Recreational cannabis revenue would be subject to an annual audit by a citizen committee “to ensure that money is being spent where voters approved,” according to the group.
“It’s time for Colorado Springs to catch up with the times and make sure we’re keeping the tax revenues that rightfully belong to the people of Colorado Springs,” Jimmy Garrison, a veteran and founder of a PTSD retreat and camp for veterans Lost Creek Ranch said in a statement for Your Choice Colorado Springs. “As a veteran, I’m thrilled to see that a portion of these tax revenues will support our American heroes and my fellow veterans who paid a price for their service and now struggle with PTSD.”
An informal survey conducted by a local television news station last year found that a majority of respondents favored legalizing recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs. And Black said that organizers of the ballot initiative have also collected data that shows support for the issue.
“We’ve done the polling, and believe the voters are in favor of allowing recreational sales in Colorado Springs,” he said.