Colorado’s marijuana laws allow for local control — communities and municipalities can opt to allow for retail sales and related industry, or they can elect not to partake.
Voters in the city and county of Pueblo on Nov. 8 will weigh whether to repeal legal marijuana ordinances for the sale, cultivation and processing of recreational cannabis.
Here’s a rundown of the issues in Pueblo.
What’s on the ballots?
First, there’s Ballot Question 200 in Pueblo County:
“Shall the Pueblo County Code be amended by Ordinance to prohibit all licensed Retail (recreational) Marijuana Establishments in all areas under the licensing jurisdiction of Pueblo County, by requiring all existing Retail Marijuana Testing Facilities, Retail Marijuana Cultivation Facilities, Retail Marijuana Product Manufacturing Facilities, and Retail Marijuana Stores to close by October 31, 2017 and by immediately prohibiting Pueblo County from approving all new licenses for these facilities?”
Then, there’s Ballot Question 300 in the city of Pueblo, which is a home rule municipality:
“Shall Chapter 11 of Title XI of the Pueblo Municipal Code be amended by the addition of a new Section and the adoption of Ordinance No. 9009 prohibiting new Retail Marijuana Establishments and ceasing the operation of all currently licensed Retail Marijuana Establishments by October 31, 2017?”
What are the arguments for Questions 200 and 300?
Paula McPheeters, a member of Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo, spoke with The Cannabist about her and her group’s views on this issue. Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo states that “Pueblo is not safer or healthier with a growing marijuana industry promoting and selling a harmful drug.”
McPheeters, 46, a Pueblo West resident who was born and raised in Pueblo, said the industry has led to an increase in the community’s transient population, contributed to higher rates of crime, caused increases in youth use rates, and created an unsavory reputation.
“I really had no idea about the commercialization component of retail marijuana and what that meant,” she said. “I don’t think most voters understood that.”
McPheeters said vast fields of marijuana plants are limiting other potential land uses and utilizing precious water. She said her son, who completed the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, was concerned about the presence of a dispensary on their route to his school.
“It’s a confusing message for our young kids,” she said.
Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo has the support of some area doctors who have said their medical and social services programs have been “overwhelmed” by an influx of people who consume marijuana.
Those social costs outweigh any tax revenue, McPheeters said.
What are the arguments against Questions 200 and 300?
Marijuana has been viewed by both those in the industry as well as Pueblo County commissioners as a potential boon for an economy that has slogged along in recent decades.
Jim Parco, a dispensary owner and spokesman for the No-on-200 campaign, said Pueblo’s cannabis industry is directly responsible for $1.7 million in tax revenue expected to grow to $3.5-$5 million annually by 2020; the employment of 1,300 people; and a surge in new economic development activity. Growing Pueblo’s Future, the campaign against the initiative, said that the measure “deprives Pueblo of all economic benefits while having no impact (on) marijuana use or illegal distribution.”
“We’ve been stagnant for decades,” Parco said on a recent episode of The Cannabist Show. “We are on the heels of an economic boom right now.”
The industry’s presence and the resulting revenue from taxes and building permits have been put toward areas such as road maintenance in Pueblo West, infrastructure projects at Pueblo County High School, middle school drug prevention programs, and research at Colorado State University-Pueblo, according to the No-on-200 campaign.
Parco, a Pueblo native, said he disagrees with proponents’ statements about crime, transient population and reputation.
“Prohibitionists realize that if they can turn back legalization in Pueblo, this may become a viable Prohibitionist strategy to use elsewhere,” he said.
Who will be voting on these measures?
The Pueblo County Election Commission provided the following breakdown of active and inactive voters:
Countywide: Democrats: 47,723; Republicans: 28,705; Unaffiliated: 36,862
City of Pueblo: Democrats: 35,710; Republicans: 13,931; Unaffiliated: 23,809
Have other Colorado cities opted to repeal their marijuana laws?
In the 2014 mid-term election, Manitou Springs residents were asked to consider a measure that would shutter recreational marijuana businesses in the town that sits just outside of Colorado Springs.
If successful, the measure would have required Maggie’s Farm, the lone recreational pot shop there at the time, to revert to a medical-only dispensary.
Ballot Measure 2G ultimately failed. Nearly 65 percent of the 2,775 votes were cast against the measure, according to El Paso County election results.
What is Pueblo’s economic development strategy?
The U.S. steel market crash in the early 1980s led to a bankruptcy and a gutting of labor at the steel mill that was the heart of industry. The mill is operational today under Evraz, but its workforce is a shell of what it was in the past.
City and county of Pueblo officials identified six industry segments that could be key to the region’s economic recovery: manufacturing, agriculture, renewable energy, transportation, medical/research and development, and creative.
The cannabis sector was identified as a potential key economic driver in areas of agriculture — where the plant is allowed to grow outdoors — as well as medical research and development.
What are some of the issues around crime in Pueblo?
A Denver Post analysis earlier this year found that Pueblo had the highest per-capital homicide rate in the state.
Police attributed the surge in violence to a gang war over heroin and gun trafficking. Opioid use — specifically, black-tar heroin — in Pueblo has risen to record levels and the county has seen an “explosion of heroin use.”
Local police and federal agents have ramped up efforts to combat the problem, leading to more arrests and fewer homicides.
What activity has occurred involving illegal marijuana grows?
Federal agents and Pueblo County authorities have been busy cracking down on illegal marijuana grows this year, including a spate of 11 busts in a month’s time.
The illegal export of marijuana from Colorado has remained a major concern for federal and local law enforcement officials, and they have dedicated resources to targeting “pirate” grows in homes, in the outdoors and on federal land.
“We probably have more substantial marijuana trafficking cases in this office than we have ever had,” John Walsh, Colorado’s U.S. attorney, said in a Denver Post article earlier this year detailing the southern Colorado illegal grow activity.