Manitou Springs: Come for the Cliff Dwellings; Stay for the Pot


Michele Sullum

KDVR, the Fox station in Denver, reports that at least 56 Colorado cities and counties have imposed bans or moratoriums on recreational pot shops since voters approved the marijuana legalization initiative known as Amendment 64 last fall. Amendment 64, while legalizing possession and home cultivation throughout the state, explicitly allows local governments to prohibit marijuana sales within their jurisdictions. So far at least 32 have opted out, while another two dozen or so have said pot stores may not open before a certain date—March 31 in Arvada and May 4 in Aurora, for example. Fort Collins, a city of 150,000 or so north of Denver, is considering a moratorium as well. The biggest city to ban marijuana outlets is Colorado Springs, which last week joined several other jurisdictions in the southern part of the state, including the unincorporated area of El Paso County, in just saying no to commercial distribution of cannabis for general use. (Colorado Springs does have several medical marijuana outlets, however.)

For pot smokers in southern Colorado who were beginning to wonder if they would have to drive up to Denver to buy legal marijuana, Manitou Springs—which, like Colorado Springs, is located in El Paso County—may offer an alternative. A little town familiar to anyone who has visited Pike's Peak, the Cave of the Winds, or the Manitou Cliff Dwellings (above), Manitou Springs is about half a dozen miles from Colorado Springs, the state's second-biggest city. Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder recently told the Colorado Springs Gazette the city council seems inclined to allow pot stores. "For me," he said, "it goes likes this: We want to honor voters of Colorado and El Paso County and specifically Manitou Springs. My belief is we will move forward with some type of licensing." More than two-thirds of voters in Manitou Springs favored Amendment 64, compared to barely more than half in the county as a whole. "That is a pretty strong number," Snyder said. Under Amendment 64, municipalities that plan to welcome marijuana retailers are supposed to designate a local licensing authority by October 1, so that is considered the deadline for imposing bans. Stores are expected to start operating in January.

Unlike Amendment 64, Washington's legalization initiative, I-502, does not authorize local bans on cannabusinesses, which as in Colorado are supposed to start receiving licenses in early 2014. But the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that some towns are trying anyway. The Kennewick City Council, for example, is considering a six-month or one-year moratorium. According to the Tri-City Herald, "The longer moratorium would require the city [to] show the state it has a work plan toward issuing licenses." That implies a permament ban would not be allowed under I-502. Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is charged with licensing and regulating pot shops, told the Post-Intelligencer a city council's vote against marijuana retailing would not stop the board from issuing licenses to qualified applicants, "but they would have to meet local city ordinances to open." And what if local ordinances impose prohibitive restrictions? Smith said the issue will "shake out over time and go through challenges."