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New idea for retail pot

Between the Lines

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Here in Colorado Springs, where you can be a tolerant moderate and yet be judged as a wild-eyed liberal, it usually doesn't make sense to use Boulder as an example to follow.

Especially when the subject is recreational marijuana.

Since the passage last November of Amendment 64, which set the stage for legalizing the possession and retail sale of the drug, the knee-jerk response of many elected leaders in El Paso County has been to oppose its implementation in any way possible. Never mind that El Paso County actually approved Amendment 64 by a 10-vote margin (141,696 to 141,686), with more people voting on that issue (283,382) than anything on the ballot except the presidential race. Take away about a dozen ultra-conservative precincts, and the rest of the county — including Colorado Springs — said yes to recreational marijuana by a comfortable margin.

So, for a moment, let's consider a way to make the most of it. Let's also agree that the attempts so far at state and local regulation have not gone smoothly. Without having sufficient resources to regulate and enforce the legal sale of recreational marijuana, perhaps it's time to consider a different option.

This comes from Sean Maher, executive director of the Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District as well as Downtown Boulder Inc., that city's version of our Downtown Partnership. Maher has been a Boulder civic leader for about a quarter-century, having brought the first Ben & Jerry's franchises into Colorado, later directing Boulder's Small Business Development Center, and leading efforts there encouraging business and product innovation.

He also doesn't smoke marijuana, he says, after trying it in college but never enjoying it. As he puts it, "My social drug of choice has always come in a bottle and not a bag."

But Maher sees Amendment 64's problems and has a different reaction. He'd like to turn it into a economic boon for his city.

So, in the Daily Camera's Sunday edition, Maher wrote an op-ed presenting a new idea, simple yet realistic. Maher doesn't take credit for it, and admits "I am honestly not sure whether it is brilliant or crazy. But it is definitely worth discussing."

The idea is for cities like Boulder (or Colorado Springs) to take over the retail marijuana business themselves. This would follow the lead of 18 states in which cities and/or the state itself have some level of control over retail or warehouse sales of alcohol. If you've visited Idaho, Utah, Oregon or other such states, you know the drill.

Maher takes the logical next step: "If alcohol and pot are indeed similar, why can't Boulder handle pot like other places handle booze?"

More from the op-ed: "One thing is sure. Licensing, monitoring and enforcement for a bunch of new outlets will be costly and cumbersome. If recreational pot sales were controlled by the city, there might be just two or three municipal pot stores in strategic locations. Control and enforcement would be a snap and you would not have to worry about a pot store popping up down the street from your house or your kid's school."

He's making sense, and the prize would be the revenue. Boulder County has about 300,000 residents, almost half as many as El Paso County. Granted, the per capita marijuana usage there would probably be higher. But consider that Boulder County has 9,379 registered medical marijuana patients, as of February, and El Paso County has 14,985.

Maher, using his deep knowledge of the Boulder economy and drawing reasonable conclusions, suggests Boulder could rake in "up to $20 million in profit every year plus another few million in sales taxes."

With double the population, Colorado Springs could use Maher's numbers as a starting point. In 2012, our city government took in $1.09 million in taxes from local medical marijuana centers. Imagine what Colorado Springs could do with 20 times more than that, every year. For starters, Maher suggests Boulder could "hire more police officers and fund drug and alcohol education [and] eliminate our transportation funding crisis."

Colorado Springs could do all that, and more. It's at least worth exploring — and perhaps even working with Boulder to learn whether it could be possible.

Yes, working with Boulder. Why not?

routon@csindy.com

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