Retail Marijuana Gets the Green Light In Cripple Creek

Gaming Community Becomes First City in Teller County to Legalize Cannabis

Rick Langenberg


It’s now official:  Cripple Creek will become the first town in Teller County to legalize the sale of marijuana, following in the footsteps of Manitou  Springs.


But big question marks still persist over when a Creek cannabis shop can open its doors and where; and exactly how much operators will pay in taxes and fees, and how they can get a license.


However, even with a slew of unknowns, the political battle over the legalization of  marijuana in Cripple Creek appears to  have reached a conclusion with the far majority of voters saying yes to  legal weed, and let’s reap the benefits of the potential cannabis money.


In fact, a few elected leaders in Teller County, who staunchly opposed the legalization of retail cannabis, even made short concession speeches at a public meeting last Thursday.


“The people have spoken,” said Teller County Commission Chairman Dan Williams, at last week’s regular commissioners meeting. “We are in full support of the voters.  There are no hard feelings.”


The commission chairman, however, urged the local casinos to work with the city and county in making this a winning proposition that wouldn’t produce negative impacts for the community. He was referring to the strong support of the marijuana issues by local gaming establishments.


Williams and the commissioners spoke heavily against the pro-marijuana propositions at the outset of the campaign.


They were joined by Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, who also spoke at last week’s meeting, and hinted that their agency may have to charge for certain services it did for free in the past, regarding the potential impacts. “We are going to see some big impacts,” said Mikesell who contended that the county is still reeling from a lengthy war on drugs that he even compared historically with the district’s earlier mining wars at the turn of the century. “Crime has no borders,” said Mikesell, in outlining the strong partnership among local agencies in combating drugs and illegal marijuana cartels.


A Strong Tally for Legal Weed

In a result that offered some surprises, voters in Cripple Creek overwhelmingly approved a ballot issue, calling for legalizing recreational and medicinal marijuana outlets on a limited basis by a strong 59 to 41 percent margin, according to the most recent  results, released late last week from the Nov. 8 election.  And voters also gave the green light for the related marijuana-related tax questions, allowing the city to collect between $100,000 and $1 million a year.


The latter question was much closer, with a 228-207 margin, based on the most recent results recorded over the weekend. This question, titled as 2B, actually was trailing on the evening of Nov. 8.  But a swath of tallies counted on Wednesday and Thursday converted this into yes votes.

Both questions had to pass in order for the pro-marijuana movement in Cripple Creek to advance to the next stage.


Oddly enough, three out of four local tax-related questions were passed by voters on Nov. 8. This is a development that is shocking for Teller County and the Ute Pass region, known for its fiscal conservative ties.


At last week’s commissioners meeting, Teller County Clerk and Recorder Krystal Brown confirmed that the marijuana questions have passed, and stated that any remaining tallies that haven’t been tabulated, aren’t enough to overturn the pro-cannabis verdict. “It is not enough to change that vote,” said Brown.


But a big question mark still hovers over the timing, and when these positive pro-cannabis votes can turn into the reality of seeing a local marijuana shop in town.


City officials and leaders say that much work needs to occur, prior to any local marijuana outlet opening their doors in Cripple Creek, a process that could take months, according to preliminary reports.  Officials, for example, have to decide where pot outlets can be located, finalize the zoning, the licensing procedures, and other details. A hefty lineup of public notice requirements must be fulfilled.


Based on the ordinance currently proposed, the city would permit two marijuana outlets initially, including both medical and recreational. But this could change.


The approval of the marijuana questions could take center stage during this  Wednesday’s council meeting.


The pro-cannabis vote is a strong message conveyed by the citizens of Cripple Creek. For some time, the idea of legal marijuana in Cripple Creek has been a frequently discussed subject. The topic became a centerpiece of a budget workshop last winter, when city officials outlined plans to increase gaming device fees.


Pro-cannabis proponents, including representatives of the Cripple Creek Casino Association, have argued that retail  marijuana could provide the town with extra revenue, so it wouldn’t have to rely so much on the gaming industry for funding. Currently, the vast majority of funding for city operations comes from betting devices fees.


But since the pandemic, casinos have learned to operate with fewer devices, meaning much less money for the city.  The city already took a $2.3 million hit, following the COVID epidemic.


Kyle Blakely, the registered agent for the local pro-marijuana group, called Cripple Creek Wins, also argued that most people who use cannabis already do so. Moreover, he doesn’t see a big increase in use among young people. Blakely cited the fellow gaming town of Central City as a good example. There, officials claim that legal marijuana has produced few adverse impacts.


The pro-marijuana effort, though, faced strong opposition from Mikesell and other law officers, who maintained that the area didn’t have enough resources to address the impacts. Mikesell continued to make these claims at last week’s commissioners meeting. He said the county has volunteered its time in working with a slew of agencies, and now may have to rethink that arrangement as far as not charging for certain services.


But unlike Colorado Springs, where voters disapproved of legal marijuana by a nearly 60 percent margin, these anti-pot arguments didn’t seem to have the same counter-punch as they did in the Springs. Television commercials, featuring Mayor John Suthers and District Attorney Michael Allen, definitely had an impact in the strong vote against legal marijuana in Colorado Springs.

A pro-marijuana proposition was also approved in Palmer Lake.


Other Local Ballot Questions

Voters in Cripple Creek, although supportive of legal pot, gave the idea of increasing their sales taxes an extra penny a cold greeting. This proposition got shellacked by a 66 to 34 percent margin.  This tax would have given the town possibly an extra $300,000 to $900,000 a year.


Critics of this proposal,  however, expressed concerns about any specifics regarding how the extra money would be used.


Also, a proposed mill levy increase for the Divide Fire Protection District was strongly approved. And voters also heavily favored a 10-year extension of a portion  of a 1 percent sales tax for supporting the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority by a huge margin.  A whole lineup of regional road projects were at stake, including about $800,000 in road enhancements in Green Mountain Falls over the next decade. GMF and Manitou Springs and part of the Authority, along with El Paso County, Colorado Springs, and a few other communities.


More than 70 percent of the registered, active voters participated in the Nov. 8 election in Teller County.