Pubdate: Thu, 14 Dec 2017
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2017 Los Angeles Times
Author: Kurtis Lee



At the two malls in town you can buy key chains and Christmas
ornaments shaped like marijuana leaves. Along a downtown shopping
corridor, paintings of cannabis plants grace storefront windows.

Even Kmart stocks its shelves with T-shirts and mugs decorated with
the signature green leaf and "Colorado est. 2012" -- the year the
state legalized recreational marijuana.

But that is the one pot product you can't buy in Colorado Springs.

When Coloradans voted overwhelmingly to make non-medical marijuana
legal, they left it up to cities whether to allow sales. Colorado
Springs, home to five military bases and known for its conservative
politics and religious values, blocked recreational cannabis sales.
Now some in town want to change that, saying the state's second
largest city is missing out on sales taxes that are enriching cities
across Colorado.

Similar debates are already happening in cities in California, Maine,
Massachusetts and Nevada -- states that passed legalization measures
last year. Recently, the Los Angeles City Council, eager to pull in
new tax revenue, crafted rules for recreational marijuana sales that
will begin in January.

In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational
marijuana, just a handful of cities still forbid such sales. The
Colorado Springs City Council enacted its ban in 2013, but Denver,
suburbs and mountain ski towns rushed to implement sales and quickly
saw the boon.

Last year, Colorado pot sales and fees produced nearly $200 million in
tax revenue. In Denver, the city raked in about $24 million, which,
among other things, was used to build a recreation center near
downtown. Aurora, a Denver suburb, brought in about $16 million and
used the money to help fund projects to help homeless people.

And in Manitou Springs, a community of about 5,300 known for its
eclectic charm -- it has a weekly Wiccan meetup -- pot money has
revitalized the town.

The town's two dispensaries last year generated $1 million in taxes --
some of that from the pockets of residents from neighboring Colorado
Springs. In 2016, Manitou Springs' budget was about $8.3 million. And
this year, it increased to about $10.4 million, thanks, in part, to

"It's brought new life to this town," Farley McDonough, president of
the Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority, said. "In many ways, it's
good Colorado Springs does not have sales."

Marcy Morrison, a former Manitou Springs mayor, staunchly opposed
legalizing pot back in 2012.

"I thought it was terrible," she said. "But really this has been a
learning experience. Legal pot has helped the city."

For Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman, it's
frustrating to watch the cash flow to other cities -- "sales tax
leakage," he calls it.

"People are going all over this state to buy marijuana and it's
outrageous," Skorman said. "It's already legal. It's in the state's

Skorman is teaming with a local group, Citizens for Safer
Neighborhoods, which is working to get a legal pot initiative on the
local ballot in November. The group must gather 20,000 signatures by
the summer to place it before voters in this city of 465,100.

Safer Neighborhoods commissioned an economic study by a University of
Denver professor that estimated Colorado Springs would make an
additional $20 million in taxes -- money that supporters say could,
among other things, help repair roads and hire more police officers.

A large portion of that would come from medicinal marijuana shops
looking to sell recreational pot. According to the study, if all 356
licensed medical marijuana establishments in the city were to pay a
licensing fee of $7,500 for recreational pot, Colorado Springs would
collect about $2.6 million.

Tom Scudder, who is a member of Safer Neighborhoods, said his two
marijuana shops illustrate some benefits, and unfulfilled potential,
of legalized pot.

At Rocky Road Aurora, which sells recreational and medical weed, the
line of people waiting to buy strains of Agent Orange sativa and Lemon
OG indica loops around stanchions and a Christmas tree in the lobby.
The walls of the bustling shop are decorated with hats and T-shirts
emblazoned with the company's name, and near the checkout counter are
marijuana themed greeting cards.

An hour away back in Colorado Springs, Scudder runs a medical pot
dispensary, A Wellness Centers, out of a small office space in a
low-slung, cinder-block strip mall that looks like an aging motel.
Inside, the hum of a dusty air-conditioning unit attached to the
paint-peeling walls fills the silence of the often empty shop.

"Not having legal sales here is wrecking my business and hurting this
community," Scudder said in the Colorado Springs dispensary.

But his effort faces strong pushback from a prominent local voice:
Republican Mayor John Suthers, who was the state's attorney general
when Coloradans passed legal weed.

Suthers often points out that local law enforcement supports his view.
He also notes past reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration that showed an uptick in teen marijuana use in
Colorado since voters passed legal pot. (A report, however, released
in December by the agency found that the current rate of marijuana use
among Colorado 12- to 17-year-olds dropped from 11% in 2014 to 9% in

And cutting off the black market? That's wishful thinking, Suthers

He cited a recent example in Denver, where grand jurors indicted 62
people in a marijuana-trafficking organization that amassed millions
of dollars by illegally growing pot and selling it out of state. It
was among the largest crackdowns on illegal growing since marijuana
sales went into effect.

And Suthers says the city's conservative values and image are at
stake. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson was on the ballot in 1964 has a
Democratic presidential candidate won here, and the community recently
faced backlash for opposing needle-exchange programs embraced
throughout much of Colorado amid the country's opioid crisis.

When asked what he would do with increased revenue from marijuana
taxes should it become legal here, Suthers demurred, saying the notion
the city would "fund essential government services with proceeds from
drug sales in violation of federal law is irresponsible."

"For me, it's largely a moral issue," he said.

"We are literally allowing money to walk right out of the city,"
Scudder said. "For what? Because of some so-called "conservative

Chris Webb, 45, who uses marijuana for anxiety, came into the shop to
buy a quarter ounce of Flo sativa. To him, the pushback against
recreational sales has been surprising.

"I've lived in this city most of my life," he said. "We could use the
money to fix some of these damn potholes."

As the shop's employee -- the bud tender -- handed Webb his change,
her face lit up in agreement.

"I hit one of those the other day," she said.
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