The passage of Amendment 64 brought the national spotlight to Colorado as the first state to successfully legalize the use of recreational marijuana back in 2012. Since then, multiple cities across the state have sidestepped the amendment by enacting citywide bans.
The largest city to enact such a ban is none other than Colorado Springs.
With the effects of Amendment 64 planned to begin on Jan. 1, 2014, many cities have decided not to opt-out of the historic legislation, fearful of the unknown consequences that lie ahead of the now-legalized recreational cannabis.
The rest of Colorado is reported to have received well over 150 applications from businesses hoping to cash in on customers eager to smoke or grow legal cannabis, the City Council of Colorado Springs has approached Amendment 64 with far less enthusiasm.
Earlier this year, the City Council voted 5-4 against the retail sale of marijuana within city limits, even though Amendment 64 passed in Colorado Springs by 4,947 votes.
The ban, which has since invoked a citywide debate, will keep any recreational marijuana from being sold inside the city, leaving the previously approved medicinal facilities in place.
City council member Val Snider, who was seen by many as the deciding vote on the issue, discussed his reasons for voting against the sale of marijuana within city limits.
“I talked to a pediatrician whose clients were money challenged,” Snider said. “He’s seen kids who have gotten into [marijuana] snacks and things like that and partially from that discussion I concluded that we shouldn’t be making this more accessible.”
The ban imposed by Snider and his peers on the City Council has been seen as a call to action for many of the city’s more progressive political activists.
A chapter of the international organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) that is active on the campus of UCCS has openly protested the ban and helped organize weekly meetings to discuss ways to revoke a decision that they feel has undermined the views of the city’s citizenry.
Meral Sarper, the President of the SSDP group at UCCS, hopes her organization can help settle some of the issues many citizens and the council have against the acceptance of retail marijuana in Colorado Springs.
Sarper believes that the issue needs to be taken out of the confrontational context in which it is often discussed so the truth about cannabis can be seen.
“It’s not an us-versus-them issue; it’s a humanity issue,” Sarper said. “We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift, and it is amazing to see how public perception is changing.”
Sarper’s student-led organization, which has six chapters at universities in Colorado alone, has been instrumental in involving the local community, mainly by helping create and regulate the non-profit advocacy organization Every Vote Counts.
The non-partisan group meets weekly to discuss different policies being pursued by the Colorado Springs’ city government. Every Vote Counts is not just a cannabis organization, and Sarper was able to highlight many of the aims and goals of the citizen-led entity.
Every Vote Counts, which attempts to hold the city’s government accountable to the people, has organized multiple events throughout the city presenting itself as a microphone for the people.
The group, which has organized multiple get-togethers to discuss Mayor Steve Bach’s controversial financial proposals, has shifted its main focus toward the re-implementation of the laws banned by the city council, with the ultimate goal of effectively allowing cannabis to be regulated like alcohol.
To go about this, the legislative project being pursued by the newly created organization (which started earlier this summer) will be to try and submit a referendum, that the group says will require 18,000 signatures, during the 2014 general election that would overturn the ban on recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs.
The Executive Director of Every Vote Counts, Mark Slaugh, believes that the ban is proof that the elected members of the city council have overstepped their bounds and failed to enact the choices of the people that elected them.
“It is up to the city council whether they want to be elected representative officials or if they want to act as representatives,” said Slaugh.
Yet the challenge facing the members of Every Vote Counts is greater than attempting to sway one of the council’s members.
“The mayor would publicly veto [the referendum],” Slaugh said.
Mayor Bach has openly supported the ban and threatened to veto its passage.
“Mayor Bach has claimed that he’d veto the law because it could cause the military bases that support Colorado Springs to relocate,” Slaugh said. “But from what we’ve heard from the Pentagon, they have no plans to relocate the bases regardless.”
To overturn such a veto, city council would need at least six votes, requiring not one, but two current officials to change sides.
Another point emphasized by Slaugh was the how much this inaction would cost the city.
According to Slaugh, he estimates that retail marijuana has an annual value estimated at “150 million dollars for the region.” Of this total, “only 40 million exists” in medical sales.
The potential for monetary fluctuations as a result of Amendment 64 seems to be of a major concern for both advocates and their opposition.
Councilmember Snider cited a lack of information surrounding the implementation of the amendment as another major reason for its failure in the city’s legislature.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk about he consequences of retail sales,” Snider, said. “We can’t anticipate the downstream cost.”
Among these costs, Snider cited a potential increase in drug counseling and police enforcement that would have to be paid for by the city’s taxpayers.
Slaugh opposed this hypothesis and pointed to the city’s surrounding counties and their hopes that the legalization of recreational marijuana could provide a much needed boost to their economies.
“We shouldn’t be stuck while Pueblo and Denver move forward,” Slaugh said. “We can be both sensible and responsible.”
Snider expressed a willingness to revisit the issue after the consequences of Pueblo and Denver’s decision to move forward with legalization were realized, yet for some this reactionary attitude seems an injustice.
Advocacy organizations have popped up all over the city and the number of people attending the meetings held by Every Vote Counts is increasing.
“We should really be mad that our votes were ignored,” Mark Slaugh reiterated.
“The mayor is trying to pull the rug from under our feet,” Sarper echoed. “A lot of people are scared [of the consequences], but we can stop being afraid.”
While as of Jan. 1 many of Colorado’s citizens — at least those 21 years old and up — will be able to purchase and smoke cannabis legally, advocates in Colorado Springs or in any of nearly 50 cities to have banned its retail purchase will have to be content celebrating the New Year with different recreational activities.