Manitou Springs May Offer Final Hope For Pot Advocates


by Rick Langenberg:



Manitou Springs, a community with strong hippie traditions, may become the final refuge in the Pikes Peak region for proponents of Colorado’s pro-recreational marijuana movement, at least when it comes to opening up cannabis shops. However, reefer advocates shouldn’t get their hopes up too much, as where these businesses could be located may put a serious dent in the prospects of future marijuana business operators. Plus, the town has such a low business vacancy rate that not many opportunities will exist for pot entrepreneurs

But early reports and comments by Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder have indicated that Manitou is a go for signaling the green light for marijuana retail shops. “For me, it goes like this: We want to honor voters of Colorado and El Paso County and specifically Manitou Springs. My belief is we will move forward with some type of licensing,” Snyder said, in a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette. At the same time, Snyder supports strong controls on where these shops can open, and how many the town should have.

If it does enter the marijuana arena, Manitou would become the sole entity in the Pikes Peak region and in El Paso and Teller counties that would legalize marijuana shops. In fact, it could put the town on the map as one of the state’s few reefer business hubs.

That is one fact that is making Manitou Springs’ leaders nervous. A workshop is scheduled for Aug. 13 to discuss the issue further with the city’s attorney. On the other side of the spectrum, Manitou Springs’ voters approved Amendment 64 (the state’s pro-recreational marijuana ballot proposition) by a two-to-one margin last November. Many leaders, even those who opposed Amendment 64, don’t want to go against the wishes of the voters. Amendment 64, though, does allow cities to opt out. And a growing number of Colorado cities, including Woodland Park, Cripple Creek, Victor, Green Mountain Falls and now Colorado Springs, have taken that route. Altogether, nearly 40 cities in Colorado have said no to the idea of having recreational marijuana businesses in their communities. Also, both El Paso and Teller County have outlawed marijuana businesses.

One of the big hurdles for Colorado local governments regarding this issue is the ‘you’re either in or out’ reality. The law doesn’t permit a middle of the road stance, or an extended moratorium period. Green Mountain Falls’ leaders, for example, considered approving a lengthy moratorium. But when they learned they must make a final decision by Oct. 1, and faced with the location limits imposed by the law for these future businesses, the town trustees voted 5-1 for the ban. Elected leaders cited the fact that it would be practically impossible for a future marijuana operator to set up shop in GMF due to the town’s proximity to churches, schools, parks and residents. Also, the trustees were concerned about the unknowns associated with Amendment 64.

Many of these anti-pot business votes, though, have become extremely controversial. Even in conservative hubs in Teller County, such as Woodland Park, these prohibitions often just passed by a single tally. During the reefer showdown in Woodland Park, Councilman Bob Carlsen referred to the current medicinal marijuana system and the war against drugs as a failure and argued against ruling against voter sentiment. The Teller County Commissioners, a group renowned for their ultra-conservative Republican views, only passed the prohibition by 2-1 vote. Dissenting Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder referred to the action as anti-business.

The pro-marijuana movement, though, took a beating recently, with the surprising 5-4 vote by the Colorado Springs City Council to ban marijuana shops. For weeks, speculation mounted that the Springs, which is filled with many medicinal marijuana shops, would become the first major southern Colorado city to legalize recreational marijuana shops. But Mayor Steve Bach lobbied hard against this move, and announced he would veto any action to allow recreational marijuana businesses.

The final tally strongly angered pro-marijuana advocates, who are threatening to go to the voters again in 2014. “The city has woken a sleeping giant,” said Jason Warf, legislative director for the Colorado Spring s Medical Cannabis Council. “I think we will see a lot of citizens up in arms. Gong against the will of the voters, no matter what the subject is never a big hit.”

Manitou Springs now ranks as the final hope for pot advocates in the Pikes Peak area.

Manitou once maintained quite a reputation as a hippie town and a prime place for Grateful Dead “heads.” But much has changed in the last 15 years, with Manitou now known for its colorful festivals, art galleries and unique shops.