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Presidential election could sour otherwise huge wins for legal marijuana



Rec shops won't stop in Pueblo. - BROOKE WARREN/HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
  • Brooke Warren/High Country News
  • Rec shops won't stop in Pueblo.

Marijuana advocates got a mixed bag of results on election night. Well, actually, they were mostly good except for one that could spoil the rest: Donald Trump's victory and the possibility his administration would move to put an end to the country's now well-established cannabis industry.

First, the good news.

Locally, CannaBiz has been following Propositions 300 and 200 in Pueblo and Pueblo County, respectively, to see whether the region would come to a screeching halt on its way to becoming the Napa Valley of weed. Recall that those measures would have outlawed all retail marijuana facilities — about 164 businesses that employ about 1,300 workers and have generated about $2.2 million in tax revenue to date.

But all that's not going away, thanks to 57 percent of the electorate who voted against the county measure and 59 percent against the city measure. Noteworthy is that, despite prohibitionists' argument that citizens are having second thoughts about legalization because of perceived crime, youth use and other social ills, these are bigger margins than Amendment 64 passed by four years ago in Pueblo County. (City voters, in a counterintuitive move, also rejected a measure that would've allowed retail pot shops inside city limits, where medical marijuana shops, along with retail cultivation and infused-product manufacturing businesses are already allowed.)

The pro-pot campaign, Growing Pueblo's Future, celebrated Tuesday night with a forward-looking announcement: The National Marijuana Museum, a first of its kind, is coming to Pueblo.

"We envision a full-spectrum experience for visitors showcasing the rich historical, scientific, anthropological and cultural narratives of cannabis across the world, national, state and local levels," spokesman and Mesa Organics owner Jim Parco said.

Branson Haney, chair of the forthcoming museum's community-based steering committee, added that "with now more than 30 states having legalized marijuana [in some form], we have entered a new era where society is finally acknowledging that the benefits of legalized cannabis far outweigh the costs." Pueblo is a leader in that movement, as the museum founders see it, making it the appropriate location for such a venture.

Also in the win column is Denver's social use initiative, with 52.6 percent of the vote. The initiated ordinance creates a new permit for businesses that don't sell marijuana to designate an area for cannabis consumption. So Denver's restaurants, bars, art galleries, yoga studios, etc. can now apply to have an indoor area for edibles/vaping and an outdoor area (set apart from public sidewalks) for smoking. Neighborhood organizations and business districts will have a say in the permitting process.

The model will be one that advocates here in the Springs, where City Council has banned private clubs dedicated to social cannabis use, can hold up as a legitimate and viable alternative to outright prohibition. (Though there's not consensus, even among cannabis advocates, that the policy would be best-suited for Colorado Springs.)

Elsewhere in Colorado, voters in Englewood and Palisade approved retail marijuana sales while those in Del Norte, Federal Heights, Florence, Lochbuie, Palmer Lake, the city of Pueblo and Simla rejected it. And on marijuana taxes, voters in Central City, Englewood, Nunn, Palisade, Palmer Lake, Parachute, Pueblo, Silt and Thornton said "yes, more please" while those in Del Norte, Florence, Sheridan, and Yuma said "no, we're good."

Elsewhere in the nation, voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational pot, while voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana measures. Arizona rejected recreational marijuana, but overall the message was loud and clear: America may be a red country, but it's also a green one.

More than 60 percent of Americans now live in states with either medical or adult-use marijuana programs, and the value of the industry is expected to grow from $6.7 billion this year to over $20 billion in 2020.

"The tipping point has come," said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. "It's time for our leaders in Washington, D.C., to hear those voters."

The federal government could respect public opinion with policy changes like opening up banking access for marijuana-related businesses, reducing their excessive tax burden and descheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. And while momentum would seem to favor that direction, we now have Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency. Whoever president-elect Donald Trump appoints to his cabinet — Chris Christie? Rudy Giuliani? — could be this movement's executioner. Like many other facets of life right now, the future of Colorado's thriving legal marijuana industry just got much hazier.

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