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Does Manitou really want RMJ? 

Between the Lines

Marc Snyder and Matt Carpenter could see this coming — almost a year ago. As the top two elected officials in Manitou Springs, Mayor Snyder and Mayor Pro Tem Carpenter realized the day might come when their happily eccentric little town at the base of Pikes Peak could inherit a new title.

As in, El Paso County's unofficial mecca for recreational marijuana, the only place where it might be available for miles in any direction.

But if you're assuming Manitou is thrilled to embrace that role, think again. Even before Colorado Springs City Council's 5-4 vote last week to prohibit sales of recreational marijuana inside the city, Carpenter voiced the feeling that Manitou leaders shared about other municipalities "opting out" of retail pot sales.

"I cannot say I like that," said Carpenter, owner of Colorado Custard Co. and best-known as a local running legend, "because I do not want my hometown to become the marijuana sales hub."

Snyder has echoed that view repeatedly, even despite the prospect of a hefty, even huge, sales-tax windfall.

During the buildup to Colorado Springs' July 23 decision, Snyder said he believed Manitou's Council would follow the voters' wishes by licensing and regulating retail marijuana stores. After all, Manitou's vote for Amendment 64 was a decisive 2,095 to 985, better than a 2-to-1 margin.

Many people believe that the town's already something of a weed haven. In recent weeks, I asked this question of various people: "How many medical-marijuana centers does Manitou have in operation?" Responses have varied from six to 20, with most people guessing somewhere around 10 or 12.

In fact, it's just one, mere yards within city boundaries, as "So few for so many" makes clear here. Another was approved and open for a while, but has shut down.

Snyder and Carpenter confirm that if Manitou decides to allow recreational pot shops, they would want a similarly understated presence — two outlets, maybe three at most, strictly regulated and forced to locate on the edges of town. That way they would avoid any unwanted impact on the historic district, motels or established businesses that depend so heavily on tourism.

But even before we get there, Carpenter is interested in exploring another idea. Despite the fact that his Ward 3 (north and west Manitou) constituents approved Amendment 64 with nearly 75 percent saying yes, he'd like to make sure residents are ready to be the pot capital of El Paso County. He wants to know that they weren't misled by Amendment 64's ballot language on "opting out" of retail sales.

"Look, if arguing about 'intent' is where this is going, then I say let's send the sales question right back to the voters for confirmation or clarification, which is an option we have," Carpenter says. "It's not too much of a stretch to think that some may have voted for 64 not really caring what people do in their own homes — but at the same time, ending up with the only shops in the county next to their home or neighborhood was not what they were after, either. This is new information."

Is it sufficient to warrant another vote on the November ballot? Carpenter says yes.

For the record, Manitou conducts its municipal elections in November of odd-numbered years, so that vote three months from now would coincide with Carpenter as well as two other councilors, plus the mayor, being up for re-election. Politically, adding a marijuana confirmation might not be advisable.

But Carpenter persists, saying, "Sometimes getting new information can make a difference, and the fact that we would be the only ones selling could be a game-changer. Game-changers happen. We know how the El Paso County term-limit issue went down the second time around when things were a little clearer."

That comparison might not be apples to apples, but you never know. The question now is whether most of the Manitou Council sees that vote last year as a clear mandate.

If not, perhaps, retail marijuana in Manitou might be one more public vote from reality.

routon@csindy.com

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