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Can Colorado Springs get a cannabis-friendly City Council?

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We won't get friendlier marijuana policies until Council looks different. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • We won't get friendlier marijuana policies until Council looks different.

So, typically this space is filled with words about reality, but this week, it's filled with a daydream: Could Colorado Springs ever be a city that's friendly to recreational marijuana?

Recall that a majority of city voters (54.7 percent) approved Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But that law has a provision that lets local jurisdictions opt out of retail sales, and Colorado Springs City Council took that route in 2013. Of members still serving, Jill Gaebler, Keith King and Helen Collins voted to allow rec pot shops, while Don Knight, Merv Bennett and Andy Pico voted against them.

Now, there are two ways to opt back in to Amendment 64: through a citizens initiative or through Council.

Collecting signatures is labor-intensive and time-consuming. (Plus, remember the last time the cannabis community tried petitioning to challenge the cannabis club ban? They didn't just fall short on the number of required signatures; they missed the deadline entirely.)

There are two routes for Council. One is for a member to propose an ordinance allowing retail marijuana sales that a majority supports. The other would be for a majority on Council to refer the question to voters — a move advocates begged for at first but have since failed to lobby for.

Either option hinges on the same need for a majority of City Council members. Hey! Did you hear there's a city election coming up? All six district seats are in play. Painting with broad strokes here, we'll put Murray in the weed-friendly column and Strand in the other (though he's welcome to prove us wrong).

So, the magic number is five out of nine councilors. Murray gives us one so far.

• District 1, incumbent Don Knight vs. Greg Basham. Knight, as we well know from his voting record, is a no. Basham would join him. In response to an Indy questionnaire, he wrote, "As a former nurse I can not support recreational marijuana. It is still an illegal substance federally, it has not been properly regulated and the social costs are too high."

• In District 2, Larry Bagley could've been an ally but did not seek re-election, leaving voters with one candidate: David Geislinger. He says that uncertainty about how the Trump administration will enforce federal drug laws makes now a bad time to "expend money, time, effort and resources on such an expansion, when such expenditures may prove to be in vain."

• District 3 has promise in candidate Richard Skorman, who wants a public vote. He thinks "we should get the revenue and designate it for Parks and/or Substance Abuse education." But he feels "strongly that we should disperse the licenses to not concentrate retail stores on the Westside or any part of town for that matter." His opponent, Chuck Fowler, offered this puzzling response: "No — we have sufficient supply to meet demand."

• District 4 shapes up as an interesting three-way race with one pro-cannabis candidate, Yolanda Avila, who supports "the people's freedom to make individual lifestyle choices." Though she was personally opposed, incumbent Collins dutifully reflected her district's will and voted to allow retail pot in 2013. So, she may respect voters' will again, but she's not your champion. Deborah Hendrix is opposed in a "think of the kids" kind of way.

• District 5 matches incumbent Jill Gaebler against Lynette Crow-Iverson. Gaebler wants you to decide. "This is an important community issue that should be decided by the people, not elected officials," she wrote. Crow-Iverson was the only candidate who refused to answer our questionnaire. But she started a company that does background checks and drug screenings. Gaebler may not have the most ideal voting record when it comes to cannabis, but she's in the friendly column.

• District 6 has four candidates: incumbent Pico, Melanie Bernhardt, Robert Burns and Janak Joshi. Pico and Joshi are staunchly anti-weed. The other two lack name recognition and political experience but take a friendlier stance toward weed. Burns doesn't partake but has "no problem" with other people partaking in city limits. (By the way, it doesn't matter which local officials approve of your toking; it's your constitutional right.) Burns added that "leadership has the responsibility to ensure proper regulated and licensed locations are available." Bernhardt supports recreational pot, saying she feels "very strongly about its ability to bring much needed funds to our city. However, strict guidelines must be in place to ensure our children are not getting their hands on it."

To review, if you dream of retail pot shops in the city, or the cannabis clubs being left alone, help elect four of the following cannabis-friendly candidates: Skorman, Avila, Gaebler, and Bernhardt or Burns. Or, of course, you can get the citizens' initiative process rolling.

But, hey, voting is easier.

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