Mayor Marc Snyder, in yellow, and the Manitou Springs City Council.
On Tuesday night, Venue 515 hosted a packed room — there were at least 30 people standing along the walls and going out the door, with all seats in the auditorium full — to hear Manitou Springs City Council direct city staff to proceed with creating regulations allowing for recreational marijuana in the small town. There wasn't exactly a vote, though five councilors supported moving forward. (The two opposed, Gary Smith and Matt Carpenter, wanted the town to vote on it.)
But before the 7 p.m. meeting led into the 11:45 p.m. decision, it seemed nearly everybody opposed to marijuana in Manitou Springs spoke. By my count, 35 people spoke against it, with only 13 in support. This was in stark contrast to a meeting a few months back, when the numbers were evenly split and the mood was much more cordial.
Speaking of mood, things really broke down late, as Mayor Marc Snyder promised they would when he tried to halt the meeting at 10 p.m. and take it up again the next week. Here's just a sampling of the ground covered:
• Multiple business owners, including Tim Haas and Ryan Cole, said marijuana would hurt their bottom line, and some even threatened to pull out of the town.
The crowd standing and cheering at the request of a speaker.
• In the same vein, more than one person threatened to pull their kids from the school district, thereby hurting future funding.
• One guy quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.
• Around 10:45 p.m., marijuana advocate Mark Slaugh boldly picked a fight with the entire crowd when he spoke.
• One woman read a letter apparently written by her college-aged daughter attesting to the perils of pot.
• Speaking to the negative characterizations given to marijuana partakers, one thin, elderly woman drew a laugh when she said, "I'm one of them who might [come to Manitou to] buy."
• After standing in the back with a sign asking Council to slow down, Manitou Springs Fire Chief Keith Buckmiller told the crowd they should only share their opinion if they lived in Manitou Springs: "Move on your own city council and leave ours alone."
But the highlight came at the very end, when a tired and clearly irritated Snyder spent nine minutes passionately delivering one of the best summations of the issue I've ever read, seen or heard. It's a behemoth, but very much worth experiencing in its entirety, if only to see what it's like to be on the other end of the public fire hose.
Here's the audio, with some transcript highlights in bold:
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I hate these kinds of decisions, because no matter what decision you make a significant segment of the voters are gonna be upset, you know, and it really is demoralizing sometimes. But nobody ever said life was easy or you got a free pass, so.
You know, I got news for you: I was not a supporter of Amendment 64. Not because I have any heartfelt opinions on whether pot should be legal or [whether] people should be able to grow it. I saw it as a big, hot mess coming down on my desk, and guess what it is: A big, hot mess. I’m sorry, Mr. [Brian] Vicente [who co-wrote Amendment 64 and spoke at the meeting], OK, but that’s the way I saw it from the beginning and it’s proved to be true.
I knew we took a risk waiting to see what Colorado Springs and all the other jurisdictions were gonna do first, but you know what? We needed to have all the information we could have, you know? We’re talking about one vote in Colorado Springs: It was 5 to 4 to opt out. If that had switched, are you telling me that nobody here would be upset about having stores in Manitou, that it wouldn’t be a big issue anymore? I don’t think so. I think people have really heartfelt opinions on this, you know? And I think that we’d be having a similar discussion right now.
I’m not excited about being the only jurisdiction that may license and regulate these things. At the same time, you know, maybe it ends up being a boon for this town, all right? As Mayor Pro Tem Carpenter pointed out, back on Aug. 20 he and I motioned and seconded and argued for and voted for an advisory vote, to put it on this last November’s ballot on this specific question about stores. I agree with him: I thought we had a single-subject rule in this state and that ballot measures had to have a single subject. Well, [Amendment 64] had multiple subjects and I think you can understand why; because to just legalize it without having a plan in place for the legal purchase, to me, is just funneling money to the black market. How is that not possible?
And I’ve listened to so many people that I love and respect tell me, ‘Well, I voted for 64, but I don’t want pot stores.’ Well, you know, I’m sorry, did you read it? Because it says it in there so many times to regulate it like alcohol, and where do you go to get alcohol? You go to a liquor store. So, is it really such a huge stretch to expect that this is what was intended by the voters, that you would go to legal pot stores to buy your pot? I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that one.
Money-wise, first of all I don’t believe in all the doom and gloom that this is gonna ruin the town, and this is gonna affect tourism. At the same time, I don’t believe all the sunshine and rose petals either, OK? That it’s gonna be manna from heaven, and it’s gonna bring in all these tourists. I personally think it’ll be similar to the dispensary experience, in which it’ll be negligible as far as the effects it'll have on those things. ... And during the medical process, I heard a lot of the same arguments that I’ve heard throughout these last several months. ... Some people [recently] explained to me that, no, that we are seeing an increase in youth access — I don’t blame that necessarily on the dispensary owners, I blame that on unscrupulous adults.
Tensions ran high among speakers.
And guess what? It’s legal in Colorado now. You know, we all swore an oath up here and the way that goes is we swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution and the charter of the city of Manitou Springs, and it is now part of the constitution in Colorado. Pot is legal. People can grow it. I’m more worried about the unscrupulous jerk who’s gonna grow it in his basement and go out and sell it in little dime bags to kids than I am about these stores.
These people are gonna be so watched and so heavily regulated, it would take an idiot to do something stupid, you know? And you want to talk about the black market, and you wanna go to your neighborhood or a street dealer, and he’s gonna say, ‘Hey kid, sure, I got a bag for you, and I’ve got something else in here, you might want to try some of this or some of that.’ But when it comes to these stores, only an idiot would try to sell other drugs [when] they’ve been given the golden ticket to sell pot. So I really think that these arguments don’t hold a lot of water for me. ...
I’ve watched for 20 years as these ridiculous constitutional amendments come before the Colorado voters and almost every time they smell a rat and they vote these things out in incredible numbers. I look at what happened even with the school measure, on 66, which failed in El Paso County 3 to 1 and yet the pot-tax measures passed 2 to 1. So don’t tell me that people don’t know what they’re voting for, OK? I have more confidence in people than I’ve been led to believe this evening.
At the same time, I did vote for an advisory vote. And you know what? I would still love to have a vote, you know, and let everybody come together, let the committees form on both sides of the issue and just have a big, old vote on it. But you know what? I made that argument on Aug. 20 and it got voted down. And I do believe in representative democracy — you know, I’ve sent this email out to a lot of people: Don’t expect me to, after fighting as hard as I can for something and then losing it, I’m not gonna then try and pull an end-around on the rest of the council. I have too much love and respect for my peers up here on council to then decide that, ‘Well, I’m not happy with their decision.’ You know, the hardest part of being on a council is being able to accept when you’re on the losing end of a vote, and I only see two options: You can either find a way to get behind the majority, or you can shut up and get out of the way. [Applause break]
You know, and then we hear a lot about kids, and what message are we sending to youth. And I understand that, believe me, it worries me. When you ask a kid who doesn’t smoke marijuana the number one reason why they don’t, they’ll tell it’s because it’s illegal. And that scares the heck out of me that it’s no longer illegal. But when you ask a kid who doesn’t drink alcohol, ‘Why don’t you drink alcohol?’ The answer is usually, ‘Because I’ve seen what it’s done to my grandfather, or to my uncle, or to my sister or my best friend,’ OK? And I think that’s the kind of direction we need to be going with education on marijuana.
Prohibitions do not work. Look at all the problems that we had after prohibition of alcohol with gangs, and the mafias, and the killings and everything else. And then we repealed that Prohibition. Is there anybody now selling illegal alcohol? Maybe a few places in Appalachia, they’re still making moonshine, but that’s gone now. It’s all above board, and that’s the direction I think the voters wanted this to go with Amendment 64.
It’s not my issue. I’m not a champion on this issue, to be honest with you. I realize I put myself in a position as being an elected official that I don’t get to cop out and just take a pass on things. So I’m trying, and coming through.
And you talk about kids and what message are we sending to kids with this: How about the hypocrisy? I ask at every public meeting that we’ve had related to this, all the way back to the dispensaries, ‘How do you answer that question: Why is it that alcohol and tobacco — which cause more death and disease by every measure — why are they not only are they legal, but they’re celebrated?’ How many people go to Coors Field? Busch Stadium? The cool jazz festival down in New Orleans?
Why is it that those products have gotten this exalted, legal, celebratory status and marijuana is this evil street drug that we have to tell our kids, ‘Don’t you use that. That’s a bad drug.’ And you know what? I’m tired of being a hypocrite. I’ve tried to explain to kids about lobbies, and money, and history and they look at me like, ‘What a cop out.’ You know? I’m so tired of being a hypocrite in front of my kids.
All right, so, what I hear tonight is we have a majority of councilors who are ready to move forward with this. And, like I said, you can either shut up and get out of the way, or find a way to get behind it. And I feel like if we’re going to be moving forward with this than it’s time to do it right.