Pro-Cannabis Campaign Officially Launched In Teller Gaming Hub

“Cripple Creek Wins” Could Open Door For Retail Marijuana

Rick Langenberg

After months of speculation, a citizens initiative campaign to open the door for recreational and medical marijuana operations in Cripple Creek has officially kicked off, with growing prospects of this issue getting decided by local voters in November.

The effort, entitled “Cripple Creek Wins,” would permit retail  cannabis shops for a variety of businesses with local licensing limits, similar to what is done in Manitou Springs.  A 5 percent excise tax would be imposed on product sales, with at least 25 percent of the excess  revenue from this pot going to “advertise entertainment and recreation for adults in the city of Cripple Creek,” according to the petition language.

The serious curtailing of special events and marketing pursuits in Cripple Creek, an initial byproduct of the COVID pandemic,  has been  a sore spot among non-gaming business operators and many residents (see related story).

Late last week, the pro-marijuana group, heavily supported by the Cripple Creek Casino Association, submitted a 20-plus page petition to the city clerk’s office.

The group only needs about 50 signatures from registered Cripple Creek voters. But in their first submittal try, they fell slightly short of the goal line, and need to correct a few technical glitches in their wording, prior to signature circulation, according to city officials. These initial errors mostly deal with the legal listing of previous ordinances, but are not considered that significant.

The group’s first real deadline is July 25. If the petition effort forward, then the council would have the chance to approve the measure as written on Sept. 7,  or refer the  matter to the voters. Most  likely, the council would take the second option, if the petition signature requirement is met.

“We see this as very beneficial to Cripple Creek,” said Kyle Blakely, the registered agent for the petition drive and the leader of the campaign.  “This would help diversify the economy and really help the community. Cripple Creek is about the only tourist town in Colorado that doesn’t allow recreational marijuana.”

The main local petition circulators,  named in the document, are Shawnna Shelton and Clinton Cline. The idea of opening the door for a full scale of recreational and medical marijuana retail outlets and cannabis grow and testing operations has been mulled since last winter, when the city held a workshop on raising gaming device fees. At the time, casino operators cited retail marijuana as a viable option, instead of depending so heavily on the gaming industry for revenue.

They also cited this a good way to increase the visitor demographics, and mentioned the success of these operations in the other gaming communities in Colorado.

Moreover, the campaign leader is not worried about competition efforts, such as  pro-marijuana vote in Colorado Spring.  “We are reaching a different audience,” said Blakely.

He believes the Cripple Creek campaign has a good chance of success, with their goal of getting the word out to the community as the main initial goal.  Blakely also believes the option of having retail outlets would establish a safer option for marijuana users.  To date,  no proposed outlets have been under consideration by the campaign.

Some initial concerns over legalizing retail marijuana deal with the town’s current problems with controlled substance and drug and alcohol abuse.

In the petition, the proposed ordinance,  which replaces past marijuana prohibitions, states, the “city council has determined that the sale, distribution, cultivation, manufacturing and testing of recreational and medical marijuana and land uses associated…would have a beneficial effect on the welfare of the city and its inhabitants.”  The group, in its proposal, also  maintain their ordinance “Is necessary for the preservation of property and the public health and welfare of the citizens of the city.”

Let the Voters Decide the Issue

The city council and staff has mostly taken a neutral stance. “This is a community decision,” said City Administrator Frank Salvato, in an earlier interview with TMJ regarding efforts to permit retail pot in Cripple Creek.  Salvato indicated the staff would follow the citizens’ direction regarding this issue.

Under the proposal, limits would be implemented initially regarding the number of licenses issued, at least for the first year. Blakely said this would be capped at two for both recreational and medical on a city-wide basis.

The petition also outlines a variety of rules for where cannabis shops can  be located, such as the distance limits from a school and from another cannabis shop.

If the petition garners a sufficient number of signatures, a vote will occur in November, even if the council adopts the group’s proposal as submitted. Due to the Taxpayer Bill of  Rights’ funding regulations, a vote would occur regardless of the council’s support of the proposed ordinance and petition by Cripple Creek Wins. And even if voters give the okay, local marijuana outlets would not occur overnight in Cripple Creek, as town leaders would have to grapple with licensing and permitting and a slew of guidelines.

The idea of legalizing retail marijuana was proposed about five years ago, in the form of a cannabis club, but the council strongly rejected the idea. No formal pro-marijuana petition campaign  has surfaced, although the topic has received considerable attention.

In fact, in recent months, a few elected leaders have expressed support for the idea, such as Councilman Mark Green. He has tried to work with the casino association in crafting a solid petition plan for voter approval.