COLORADO SPRINGS – The debate over whether or not to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs has sparked again, as a group of citizens filed to create a petition to put the issue on the ballot.

Ideally, for organizers like Clifton Black, the issue makes it to the general election in November. If it makes the ballot and is approved by voters approve, the issue would not allow for new licenses for recreational stores, rather it would allow the dozens of medical marijuana shops already in the city to sell to people without a prescription.

“Right now, anybody who is not a patient, but wants to use recreational marijuana is limited to going to Manitou Springs or Pueblo County or buying from the illegal market,” said Black, a cannabis attorney for businesses at the Law Offices of Clifton Black.

Black, like many proponents of recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs, points to a hefty tax revenue which the city is currently missing out on.

In the City of Pueblo (excluding Pueblo County tax revenue), approximately $1,163,024 was brought in from retail marijuana taxes from December 2020 through November 2021.

Hundreds of thousands more dollars were brought in through licensing fees, according to the city’s latest budget.

Colorado Springs has more than four times the residents of Pueblo, and Black estimates the city could bring in $10-15 million in tax revenue. He believes that most of the customers Colorado Springs “misses out” on are traveling to Manitou Springs instead. Because Manitou Springs has less than three stores, Colorado law forbids the tax revenue from the city to be publicly disclosed.

“Manitou Springs has re-done all of their roads and curbs. They’ve bought new fire equipment. The same thing is going to Pueblo,” Black said.

Black says the measure he wants to put on the ballot would allocate tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana to veteran services, mental health programs, public safety, and funding the regulation of the industry in the city.

“We may be giving up tax revenue, but on the other hand how much are we spending on the harm that can and might and will be done to our people – especially our young people,” said Randy Helms, a Colorado Springs city councilor representing District 2.

Helms was elected in April of last year on a platform that included an oppositional stance on recreational marijuana.

He says he’s read a slew of research that attributes behavioral and mental health problems to the use of recreational marijuana among teenagers.

Because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, the research on the drug’s effects is in its infancy, although several articles supporting Helms’ concerns can be found by searching online.

Black says that children are more likely to get marijuana through the black market, and that the lack of regulated recreational sales simply bolsters black market operations.

“The determents of the illegal market is that it makes it easier for children to get ahold of it. The illegal market doesn’t care who they sell to. There’s also no regulation on the product. The regulated market has substantial testing,” he said.

Helms shares some of Mayor John Suthers well-documented concerns about the military presence in Colorado Springs and a decision currently under review that would move Space Command to Colorado Springs. He says he can’t support recreational marijuana based on his sponsorship for cadets at the Air Force Academy, where its use is banned.

He also worries about the potential for homelessness that he has seen in Aurora and Denver following the legalization of recreational sales in those cities.

But Helms says his main concern is the effect it could have on children.

“I don’t want to go down that road of making recreational marijuana legal to see if I’m right or the other groups are right,” he said.