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Medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states — but come January 1, recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Colorado and Washington state.
In Colorado, that will mean residents over 21 will be able to legally buy up to one ounce of pot and grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use, even though the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance.
But not all cities in Colorado want to allow the retail sale of marijuana.
Keith King, president of the Colorado Springs city council, and Sal Pace, a county commissioner for Pueblo County join Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss their respective takes on the impending policy change.
Although King was one of the four council members who voted to allow the retail sale of marijuana — he said he voted to allow it because the majority of his district supports retail sale — he is glad it ultimately failed in the City Council.
Colorado Springs voted to ban retail marijuana sales in a 5-4 vote in the city council.
“Some of my conservative Republican friends see it as a time to be able to create businesses and want it to able to be entrepreneurs,” King said. “I’m more of the concern that I think it’s going to open up a problem that we’re going to eventually have to deal with in our society, and I don’t think it’s going to be overall healthy, in the long run.”
On the other hand, Pueblo County, which Pace represents, has allowed the retail sale of marijuana. In 2014, the county is going to license 10 recreational retail stores.
Pace is optimistic about these new businesses.
“There’s been illicit marijuana use in our community for years,” Pace said. “The difference is now we are getting rid of the black market … We will generate tax revenue that we can use for public safety and roads and bridges.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And we're just a few days away from the day recreational marijuana becomes legal in two states for people 21 and older, Washington state and Colorado. In Colorado that means residents will be able to legally buy up to one ounce of pot and grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.
But not every community in the state will allow stores to sell recreational marijuana. One of the communities that has decided not to is Colorado Springs, which voted in the summer to ban retail sales. It does have several medical marijuana dispensaries. Keith King is president of the Colorado Springs City Council. And Keith, the council voted five to four against retail pot stores. You voted to allow them, but you say you have concerns. What are they?
KEITH KING: Well, I have a lot of concern overall about the sale of marijuana, and I think it's going to be detrimental in the long term to our young people. And so I think we have to be really careful about what we do with marijuana. I am also the administrator of Colorado Springs Early College School, where the kids' get an associate's degree while they're in high school, and I'm very concerned about kids having access to marijuana.
HOBSON: So why did you vote to allow it, then?
KING: Well, I wanted to make sure that I represented what the people in my district wanted, and it passed in my district overwhelmingly. Over 60 percent voted for legalizing marijuana in my district. So I had also made some things that if it did pass, it would be very restrictive in how we would go about allowing it in the city, and so that's why I did it.
HOBSON: So in a way, you're happy that it didn't pass?
KING: Well, I'm happy that it didn't pass because of the way it would probably had to have been regulated and how the medical marijuana stores would have been the only stores that would probably have been allowed to sell it anyway. And so I think it would have been a real restrictive market to have people get it.
HOBSON: Do you think that people will be traveling to nearby towns, say Pueblo, to buy their marijuana after January 1?
KING: Yes, I do think that will happen, and I think they'll go to Denver to buy it or Pueblo, and so yes, I do think that will happen.
HOBSON: And are you worried about that, that you're going to be losing some income because of that?
KING: Well, I think they estimated about $3 million a year in sales tax income. That's one of the risks that you take when you make a stand like this, and that's part of the reason I supported it in the way I did was because we are going to probably have to pay the police and all the enforcements once it gets back into our city, and we won't have the money to pay for the extra protection.
HOBSON: You know, as somebody who is not in Colorado, or Washington state for that matter, and is looking at this, it does look like an experiment that this country is finally getting to see what it is like to have fully legalized marijuana sales in the United States. You're in a city that is home to the very conservative group Focus on the Family and to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
What's it like? What are people saying about this? This must be a pretty big change that's about to happen.
KING: Well, it's an interesting change. Some of my conservative Republican friends see it as a time to be able to create businesses and wanted to be able to be entrepreneurs and do something different. I'm more concerned that I think it's going to open up a problem that eventually we'll have to deal with in our society, and I don't think it's going to be overall healthy in the long run.
HOBSON: Are people talking about Colorado becoming like Amsterdam, where tourists, pot tourists come in?
KING: That's been talked about. So I'm wondering if that's possible.
HOBSON: Well Keith King, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, thanks so much for talking with us.
KING: OK, appreciate it.
HOBSON: And now let's bring in Sal Pace. He is a commissioner in Pueblo County, which is south of Colorado Springs. And there will be two retail pot stores opening in Pueblo County on Wednesday. Sal, what was your reaction when you heard Colorado Springs had voted to ban retail pot stores?
COMMISSIONER SAL PACE: Well, considering that we're looking to generate some tax revenue for our county coffers, when Colorado Springs banned recreational adult marijuana, we thought it was an opportunity to generate more tax revenue in our community.
HOBSON: So you're happy about it.
PACE: Yeah, absolutely.
HOBSON: Well, and I just asked Keith King about whether, you know, parts of Colorado are going to be like the Amsterdam of the United States and that there will be pot tourists coming in. Are you expecting that?
PACE: We're leaving that up to the free market. There are some retailers who are talking about marijuana tourism, about maybe having tours of their grow operations like you'd have tours of vineyards. And so if that happens, and it generates tax revenue for our community, and our robust regulatory environment is ensuring that it's being kept out of the hands of minors and that there's no illegal activity, then we'll let the free market decide.
HOBSON: Well, how big of a deal do you think this is? Do you think it's going to change your community?
PACE: We've had medical marijuana dispensaries for three years.
HOBSON: But not recreational dispensaries.
PACE: Absolutely. The voters of Colorado spoke resoundingly. In our community they spoke by a double-digit margin. To go against the will of the voters would be arrogant.
HOBSON: I'm not asking you to go against the will of the voters, but what do you think it's going to do to the community? Do you think it will change the community in a fundamental way?
PACE: I don't think so. There's been illicit marijuana use in our community for years, as with several communities across the country. The difference is now we're taking the black market, we're getting rid of the black market. They will not have a marketplace anymore in Pueblo County. The illegal drug cartels in Mexico, who have been driving up to our community and communities in Colorado, will not have a marketplace in Colorado anymore.
And we will generate tax revenue that we can use for public safety and roads and bridges.
HOBSON: So do you think you'll be able to put Jimmy the high school drug dealer out of business with this?
PACE: Absolutely. You know, Jimmy the booze dealer doesn't exist anymore after the end of alcohol prohibition.
HOBSON: When are you going to be able to measure if this is working? When do you think we should check back in with you and find out if everything is going as planned?
PACE: I think we'll have an idea after a few months. We're doing a slow ramp-up. We're only going to allow 10 recreational retail stores in 2014. We've hired the first local enforcement officer, and we'll have a good idea pretty early on in what type of tax revenue we're generating.
HOBSON: Sal Pace is a commissioner in Pueblo County, Colorado, which has approved retail marijuana stores, and two of them are going to open on January 1. Sal, thanks so much.
PACE: Thanks, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.