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Wake up and smell the weed

Your Turn

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Legal grass is a "jobs killer." What a total lie.

At a recent meeting, Mayor Steve Bach was asked why he wouldn't meet with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. This is the campaign that in 2012 passed Amendment 64 — approved by a majority of Colorado Springs voters — and now is advocating for accurate representation of those votes in Colorado communities.

Bach's answer was that he'd already spoken to business leaders and the military, who told him that allowing retail marijuana would be a "jobs killer" for Colorado Springs. In talking about the city's decision to ban commercial cannabis, Bach cited concerns of military bases relocating, despite the Pentagon having allayed those fears months ago, and of kids accessing marijuana, despite a 2012 Center for Disease Control Study, showing that regulation restricts access to kids.

Bach's "No. 1 goal" has long been to create 6,000 jobs a year. Yet he and a majority of city councilors are apparently oblivious to the fact that the medical-marijuana industry alone has created hundreds of jobs since 2010 in Colorado Springs, and could be viewed as directly responsible for turning streetlights back on after severe budget cuts in 2010. With about 90 cannabis centers locally, employing 10 to 15 people each, the total number of jobs created may top 1,000 since Bach took office.

These positions require background checks, licensing fees and picture ID badges similar to those worn by defense contractors or blackjack dealers. These businesses and jobs are regulated by the Department of Revenue and deal with more regulatory control than any other industry in Colorado.

By banning retail commerce here, leaders ceded what I estimate to be a $150 million regional marketplace to the black market, which has no regulatory oversight, pays no taxes, and has no conscience regarding who it sells to.

For years, Colorado Springs has been losing young professionals due to low wages and few opportunities. We stagnate a non-diversified economic base by catering not only to the military-industrial complex, but to nonprofits and churches — which often skirt around needed tax contributions to public coffers and rely largely on volunteer labor.

Now, our "visionary leaders" have begun "economic development" on four major projects. City for Champions is seen by some as a massive gamble using some taxpayer dollars to attempt an expansion of the economic base by increasing tourism. Also known as "If we build it, we hope they'll come."

Meanwhile, thousands of tourists flock to Colorado to enjoy cannabis in a legal and responsible manner and spend millions on hotels, travel and dining. These are ancillary jobs and tax revenue that Colorado Springs has forfeited due to half-formed thoughts on the public policy discussion; stigma and judgment of adults who use cannabis; and a downright reefer-madness mentality that flies in the face of traditional values of free markets, liberty and fiscally sound economic policies.

Instead of building bigger "golden idols" in the City for Champions project, City Council would do well to follow the will of voters on Amendment 64 and regulate marijuana like alcohol. This would allow existing MMJ businesses to remain competitive with surrounding regions. We could revitalize our economy and tourism without reshaping the cityscape in the name of "progress." Real progress is not repeating mistakes of the past laid down by establishment figures maintaining the status quo; it comes from entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks to reap rewards we all share in as a community.

If you figure that recreational sales means at least doubling staff at MMJ outlets, another 1,000 good-paying, full-time and regulated jobs could be made. Instead, by continuing prohibition, Colorado Springs has opened job opportunities for underground growers, gangs and cartels to skirt the laws and taxes meant to control and benefit from cannabis commerce.

Marijuana will not go away simply because legitimate MMJ businesses were discriminated against. Elected officials need to listen to their constituents and wake up. Money and jobs can grow on trees.

Mark Slaugh serves as legislative liaison for the county Libertarian Party, executive director of Every Vote Counts, and Southern Colorado regional coordinator for Amendment 64. He also owns a regulatory compliance company for commercial cannabis affairs.

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