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May 29, 2013 8:37 PM by Andy Koen

City Council weighs recreational pot vote

COLORADO SPRINGS - Medical marijuana stores have been selling cannabis in Colorado Springs for about four years. Like other businesses in town, they pay taxes and licensing fees. This summer, City Council will decide whether to expand the local industry to include recreational marijuana businesses.

Advocates like Bob Wiley of the group Sensible Colorado say the voters in the community have already spoken on the issue by passing Amendment 64.

"We've passed this so that we could regulate and control the sale of recreational marijuana and that's what we want to have happen," Wiley said.

Since anyone in the state can legally grow their own marijuana, Wiley says it would be better for the city to have control over what is bought and sold.

"I don't think Colorado Springs wants to have every third house in the neighborhood growing six plants of recreational marijuana."

Others in the community are urging caution against a rush to regulate. Jo McGuire, Director of Compliance and Training for the drug screening company Conspire, recently served on the governor's marijuana regulation task force.

"This is historical, it is ground breaking, whether you agree with it or not, and we need to get it right the first time," McGuire said.

Given the way the law is written, she would encourage City Council to opt-out, at least for now.

"If we chose to opt in, we can't back out or reverse it later," McGuire said. "If we chose to opt-out now, we can always choose to opt-in later."

McGuire points to a recent audit that blasts the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, the state oversight agency for the industry, as proof that more work needs to be done.

The audit criticizes the Division for cost overruns, slowness in issuing licenses, failing to deliver on a promised "seed-to-sale" plant tracking system and issuing licenses to questionable applicants.

House Bill 1317, which implements retail marijuana regulations at a state levet, assigns oversight of the new industry to the same Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. The bill was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper Tuesday.

McGuire thinks Council should also consider the effect their decision will have on employment and the local economy. She says many of her corporate clients are uncomfortable with a state law the flies in the face of federal drug policy.

"We've already had concern from outside business owners as to what are we going to face should we open up shop here."

Council has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for June 27 from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

"I'm hoping that we do hear from everybody and that everybody feels that they've had a chance and an opportunity to communicate their thoughts on the subject," said Councilwoman Jill Gaebler.

A work session on recreational marijuana is scheduled for July 9 with a final vote expected on July 23.

El Paso County Commissioners and the town of Monument have already voted to opt-out of recreational marijuana. The Pueblo City Council decided Tuesday to put a moratorium in place on the issue until next March.

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