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Recreational marijuana debate intensifies in El Paso County

Manitou remains only location allowing sales

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Local elected leaders discussed at length this week whether they should allow sales of recreational marijuana beyond two dispensaries in Manitou Springs.

Under recreational marijuana guidelines that began in 2014 after voter approval, possession of 1 ounce or less of the drug is considered legal. 

The decision on whether to allow sales or distribution is left up to local governments, and many have been reluctant to do so.

The topic was on the agenda of an informal joint meeting Thursday of Colorado Springs City Council members and El Paso County commissioners.

District Attorney Dan May, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers are among officials strongly opposed to expanding recreational marijuana sales.

"Eight of the county's homicides have some connection with marijuana," May said.

Carey expressed concern about not having enough resources to fully enforce the illegal marijuana trade.

"I think illegal marijuana will get worse if you allow recreational marijuana in," he said.

Suthers and other elected leaders said many employers would have a negative view of the city, and that some employers find it difficult to hire skilled workers because they test positive for marijuana and fail drug tests.

"It's hard to be seen as Olympic City USA when you allow recreational marijuana," Suthers said.

But proponents, including City Council members Richard Skorman and Bill Murray, say the matter should be placed on a ballot for voters to decide.

"When I went to one of the Manitou dispensaries, all of the customers were from Colorado Springs," he said.  "That's tax revenue we're losing out on.  We could regulate it and provide law enforcement with the resources needed to enforce it."

The meeting ended with no consensus or plan of action.

"But I'm going to do my best to convince the council to let the people decide," Murray said.

Murray said some elected leaders are allowing their personal objections to marijuana to influence decisions that aren't in the best interest of the county or the public.

Commissioner Mark Waller said he's not comfortable with letting voters decide the issue.

"Let me make this very clear," he said.  "I'm not for putting this on the ballot because I don't believe it would be marketed correctly, that there would be too much misinformation."

An informal survey by KRDO NewsChannel 13 found that most people want to vote on the matter.

"I believe in the right to use recreational marijuana," said Sherri Daniel.  "People shouldn't have to drive just to Manitou Springs to get it."

"Saying it's not a good thing is kind of like unspilling the milk," said Pamela Miller. 

Manitou Springs Mayor Nicole Nicoletta said the town has two recreational marijuana dispensaries and one medical marijuana dispensary.

"Two of each is all we're allowing," she said.  "Maybe that's why it works here, where we don't already have 130 medical dispensaries, as Colorado Springs does."

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