City Councilor Don Knight says a phone call in September really put cannabis clubs on his radar. His constituent was complaining about My Club 420, which had moved into the Rockrimmon shopping center.
"I found out through research there was no avenue at all for neighbors to have a voice on whether a club should go in their neighborhood or not," Knight told the Independent. "So I wanted to do something about that."
Knight discovered virtually all cannabis clubs operate on a business model that includes some level of sale, exchange, reimbursement, or trade.
"To me it was a total disrespect for rules and regulations," he says. "So that's what led me to go from looking at this through zoning to a full ban."
What Knight refers to as sales is a common practice at clubs throughout the city. You can walk in, sign up as a member, make a donation and/or sign over your right to grow six plants to the club, and get cannabis back in return. Whether or not that kind of exchange constitutes a sale or remuneration is a matter of controversy likely to be resolved only in court.
Council, of course, voted in 2013 for Colorado Springs to opt out of retail sales. Knight's district didn't go for legalization so neither did he. In weighing that and future votes on cannabis-related issues, Knight says the city's military presence is a significant consideration.
"Before I came on Council, I spent 10 years in the [Department of Defense], walking the halls of the Pentagon," he says. "I know that civic leaders from Texas, Alabama, all over the country are protecting the bases in their cities," Knight says. "In Colorado now, because we've got marijuana, that counts against us."
That line of thinking took hold last year before Pentagon officials visited the Springs on a nationwide tour to decide how to pull off a $100 billion mandatory budget cut over the next five years. (To put that in perspective, the DOD requested $585.3 billion for fiscal year 2016.) The Regional Business Alliance hosted a "Keep Carson Strong" rally so local military brass, civic leaders and other supporters, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, could make the case for supporting Fort Carson.
When all was said and done, Fort Carson fared well compared to other Army installations — losing 365 soldiers by 2017.
So how are active military members, bound by federal law, affected by Colorado's legal marijuana? An Army report obtained by the Gazette earlier this year shows the number of positive drug tests for marijuana last year at Fort Carson dipped to 422 from 725 the year prior to legalization.
As for whether Colorado's legalized marijuana could affect how and where installations are reduced or closed, DOD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson laid down a bright line.
"Whatever's legal in a city or state doesn't matter. We have missions in numerous other countries that have different laws and we still station troops there," he told the Independent. "Military members are held to federal law."
Knight says even though higher-ups won't say it flat out, he can read between the lines.
"We can't erase [cannabis] entirely, but we'll do everything we can to mitigate that weakness," he says.
Of course, he recognizes it may not be up to him.
"If folks want retail sales here, they can go out and get the signatures," he says. "That's an avenue always open to them."
A coalition of cannabis clubs is currently doing just that. A legion of volunteers, many of them vets, have been circulating three petitions that, should they garner 14,649 valid signatures each by April 21, would force a referendum on the cannabis-club issue.
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